History Moves Aims to Take Chicago Communities’ Stories On the Road

UIC historian Jennifer Brier, co-curator of last year’s groundbreaking and award-winning Out in Chicago exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, has teamed up with UIC colleagues--architect Sharon Haar and architect Julie Flohr, from the School of Architecture--on a project that is public history and public art, community engagement and collective education. Literally a museum on wheels, History Moves will be a moveable feast that both gathers and shares the history of Chicago’s vibrant communities and neighborhoods.

History Moves is currently in the design development phase and recently received $20,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Central to the project is community involvement at every stage—from the creation of its curatorial content to the interpretation of the exhibits to its reception in various host-communities of Chicago.

“While there are numerous mobile museums in the United States, none of them make non-professionals central to the work of making pubic history,” said Brier, associate professor in the Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and History. “History Moves is a space for enacting a project of collecting and displaying Chicago’s history and it allows for a direct relationship between interdisciplinary scholars at UIC, community co-curators and the neighborhoods they inhabit.”

Traditional brick-and-mortar museums bring individuals together but are fixed in space and time; online or virtual museums are flexible but preclude face-to-face human interaction. The developers of History Moves hope to create a museum that combines the best of both worlds.

The design of the mobile museum is boldly modular, allowing “for changing spatial configurations that are vibrant, and physically engaging.  Artifacts, graphics and digital technologies are carefully woven together in order to best present each curatorial project,” said Flohr, clinical assistant professor in the UIC School of Architecture, who is the lead architect on the project. 

"In addition to the flexible interior design, which will allow for multiple or changing exhibits, History Moves’ relationship to external space is not static,” added Haar, professor in the UIC School of Architecture, who has been consulting on the urban dimensions of the project. “The community co-curated exhibitions will travel throughout the city, drawing in new audiences and crossing the social, cultural, racial and economic barriers that are reinforced by bricks and mortar institutions.”

The long-term plan is to mount exhibitions that will run for a seven-month period. During that time, History Moves will reside in accessible public space such as library, school or park district parking lots. Public programming associated with the exhibit will take place outside the mobile museum or in nearby publicly-accessible space.

Community partners for the curation and programming of History Moves include the Immigrant Youth Justice League, South Side Community Arts Center, Chicago Cultural Alliance, Chicago Freedom School and Read/Write Library. Inquiries regarding community participation in History Moves may be directed to Brier at jbrier@uic.edu.

Additional UIC partners in the project are the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, which has also provided seed funding to History Moves.

UIC was among 817 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive a 2013 NEA Art Works grant. Acting NEA Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable opportunities for the public to engage with the arts.”

Submitted by Brian Flood, UIC News