Museum holds first exhibit to tell the story of public housing

This Friday, Chicagoans will get the chance step into part of the city that's disappearing every day: public housing.

The National Public Housing Museum will hold its first in-house exhibit, Inside Out, at the museum's future permanent site, the former Jane Addams homes on the near West Side. It is one of the few remaining original public housing buildings in Chicago.

Photographs from the history of the Addams homes will be projected onto the walls of the old apartment building as participants listen to audio testimonies from the residents who lived there.

"It's a good chance for people to be able to experience the building and build some relationship to the entire project," says Jennifer Mau, operations and administrations consultant for the museum. 

The museum has been in the works for several years and is currently in the process of fundraising, projecting to open in 2012. Keith Magee, the newly appointed executive director of the museum, says he hopes the power of the building itself will help people understand the world of public housing.

"This place was home," says Magee. "We could go out and raise $5 or 10 million for a new buildling, but it doesn't have the same power as a place where people actually lived."

Magee says that as Chicago's old public housing is nearly torn down, residents felt it was important to preserve their community in some way.

"They wanted to leave a place so that their children and grandchildren knew that they existed as a community," says Magee.

In order to preserve those stories, the museum is starting a project that would get Chicago students to interview and record the personal histories of community members who lived in public housing. The museum just got a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to start the planning portion of the endeavor.

Brad Hunt, professor at Roosevelt University who helped write the grant, says the museum staff felt it was important to get kids involved in learning their family and city history.

"These public housing buildings have been demolished. People have been displaced. History is being lost," says Hunt. "We want them to understand what's happening and have them really engage in it."

Hunt says he hopes Friday's exhibit will help people start to understand the depth and breadth of public housing's story and what the museum hopes to contribute to Chicago's history.

"There's all sides of public housing. Stories of great success and horrific failure," says Hunt. "It's a much more complex story than people realize."

"Inside Out" will take place April 17 from 6 to 10 p.m. at 1322-24 W. Taylor St. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

Discuss

NATASHA WASINSKI, 04-16-2009

I lived on Taylor Street last year and always wondered when this museum would open - the building appeared vacant for so long despite a sign declaring a museum was on its way. Thanks for the update!