The announcement and opening of three new museums in Chicago is shaking up the downtown cultural scene. After years of false starts, it seems that the Chicago Blues Museum will soon become a reality. Officially titled the Chicago Blues Experience, the new museum will open in 2019. Just this month, the American Writers Museum was inaugurated with a speech by Pulitzer-winning historian David McCullough. On the South Side, the Obama Presidential Center recently revealed its early architectural plans on its way to a 2021 opening. Together, these new museums in Chicago will try to wash away the stink of the failed Lucas Museum endeavor and bring a renewed focus to Chicago’s cultural heritage. And by the way, happy International Museum Day!
The Chicago Blues Museum Is a Long Time Coming
Developers have been trying to fill this gap with a dedicated Chicago Blues Museum for a while now. As late as last year, there were plans to build the museum out on Navy Pier. The authorities at the pier evidently chose to add a hotel, so the Trump Group (no, not that Trump) landed the Chicago Blues Museum at 25 E. Washington, which was once the Marshall Field’s Men’s Annex. That location seems pretty brilliant, since they’re right next to the ‘L,’ the Red Line, State Street, Michigan Avenue, and Millennium Park. There are going to be lots and lots of tourists who wander into any museum at that spot. We’ll try to herd them over after the Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Tour in future years.
The Writers Museum Honors Our Nation’s Wordsmiths
The American Writers Museum is a relatively small endeavor, fitting into a upper-floor space at 180 N. Michigan. It’d be easy to think the museum and its mission might be second-rate when compared to the gargantuan museums along the lakefront. But the AWM is championing a cause that has gotten surprisingly little attention from museums: free expression and the written word.
Malcolm O’Hagan, the museum’s founder, was inspired to start up the American Writers Museum when he visited a similar museum dedicated to Irish literature in Dublin. He realized that the United States lacked such an institution despite its canon of literature, poetry, non-fiction, and journalism. Authors from James Fenimore Cooper to Jonathan Franzen are highlighted in the exhibits and displays. Honestly, the number of famous writers who have come out of Chicago alone would justify a museum. I’m already eye-balling my tour schedule to see when I can make my first visit (of many). For our tour guests, the museum is just two blocks north of where the Loop Interior Architecture Tour finishes.
Obama Library Anchors Museum Campus South
The most anticipated of the new museums in Chicago won’t be in downtown, of course. Located in Jackson Park, the Obama Presidential Center will open in 2021. The museum and library will anchor the new Museum Campus South. These seven institutions and the University of Chicago will turn the former grounds of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition into a new rival to the extant Museum Campus near downtown.
The Obama Foundation just released a first glimpse of their plans a few weeks ago. Personally, I love the monolithic museum building that is the visual centerpiece of the museum. To me, it recalls the monumental architecture of Egypt. Maybe an architectural nod to Obama’s historic role as the first black POTUS. The rest of the Obama Library will blend into the landscape of Jackson Park with the intention of architecturally reflecting Obama’s commitment to open community and consensus. You can visit Jackson Park and the growing Museum Campus South on our Neighborhood and Cultural Diversity South Side Tour.
All in all, these new museums in Chicago promise to create a vibrant, new energy in the city’s culture. I expect that visitors, locals, and tour groups will all be flocking to these institutions for years to come.
– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide