Three New Museums in Chicago

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

new museums in Chicago blues museum
The Chicago Blues Museum will create a more permanent memorial to the city’s musical legacy. Photo by Alex Bean

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.

new museums in Chicago American Writers Museum
The American Writers Museum is a new addition to the “Millennium Mile.” Photo by Alex Bean

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

new museums in Chicago Obama Presidential Center South Side tour
The monumental Obama Presidential Center will anchor Museum Campus South when it opens in 2021. Image via the Obama Foundation

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

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Ellen

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There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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