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Obama Foundation Announces Exhibition Designers for Obama Presidential Center

February 21, 2017 at 12:41 PM CST

Chicago, IL – Today, the Obama Foundation announced that it has selected an interdisciplinary exhibition design team for the museum that will be part of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).

The exhibition design team will be led by Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) and will ultimately include several firms and individuals with expertise in media, lighting, and acoustics. Several Chicago-based creative collaborators will play important roles in the exhibition design process, including the firms Civic Projects LLC and Normal, and the artists and educators Amanda Williams, Andres Hernandez, and Norman Teague. Almost half of the exhibition design work for the OPC will be performed by minority- and woman-owned businesses.

RAA has led the exhibition design efforts for many interactive and dynamic institutions, including the recently-opened and critically-acclaimed National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Civic Projects LLC is dedicated to making community participation a core ingredient in design, most recently with the Bronzeville Retail Initiative and the in-progress Englewood Exchange in Chicago. Normal has produced award-winning design projects for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Theaster Gates Studio, and University of Illinois at Chicago. A native of Chicago’s South Side, Amanda Williams is a visual artist and architect, well known for her series, Colore(ed) Theory. Andres Hernandez is an artist and educator committed to collaborative and community-based work, currently working on a range of projects with Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative. Norman Teague is a Chicago-based designer and educator devoted to examining the complexity and history of communities.

David Simas, Chief Executive Officer of the Obama Foundation, said, “We are thrilled to announce that this talented and diverse team will lead the exhibition design for the Obama Foundation. RAA, Civic Projects, Normal, and the creative collaborators distinguished themselves with their experience developing award-winning civic projects and their collective mission to develop interactive, state-of-the-art, and dynamic spaces that help visitors connect history to action. We are confident this team will contribute to our building a presidential center that is more than just a library or museum, but that will be an innovative center that inspires communities and individuals to take on our biggest challenges.”

Ralph Appelbaum, President of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, said, “We are honored to lead this incredible exhibition design team and to collaborate with the Obama Foundation to help develop a presidential center that reflects the dynamism and openness of the Obama presidency and encourages and supports civic engagement.”

Monica Chadha, Founder and Principal of Civic Projects, said, “We look forward to the opportunity to partner with RAA and to work with this outstanding team. Our goal is not only to design a meaningful experience, but to actively engage with the local community in the process of developing that experience.”

Amanda Williams, Visual Artist, said, “Obviously, it is a tremendous honor to participate in a project that will resonate locally and globally. As someone who was raised on the South Side, it brings my childhood aspirations for what is possible for my community full circle. I look forward to collaborating with this unparalleled team to develop a project that reflects the Obama Foundation’s values of inclusion and engagement.”

The Obama Foundation announced a landscape design team comprised of Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects and Associates, Site Design Group and Living Habitats in January. In October, the Obama Foundation announced the formation of an Inclusion Council, led by local leaders to ensure that the work of the Foundation is informed by a diverse set of viewpoints and is in line with the values of diversity and inclusion. In July, the Obama Foundation announced Jackson Park as the site of the future Obama Presidential Center. The Foundation considers the South Side community a full partner in the development and construction of the OPC, including in the integration of the OPC into Jackson Park. In June, the Obama Foundation announced that Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners and Interactive Design Architects will lead the design phase of the Obama Presidential Center.

Ralph Appelbaum Associates

Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) is a multidisciplinary firm specializing in the planning and design of museums, exhibitions, educational environments, and visitor attractions. A family-owned company founded in 1978 to serve governments, leading institutions, and major corporations, its portfolio includes many of the world’s most recognizable public learning institutions across 700 completed commissions in more than 50 countries. Headquartered in New York, with branch offices located internationally, RAA has designed the exhibitions for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Capitol Visitor Center, and the National Constitution Center. RAA has a staff of two hundred practitioners including designers, architects, historians, educators, writers, media specialists, technologists, and researchers. Melanie Ide will serve as project principal.

Civic Projects LLC

Civic Projects is a hybrid design practice that takes a participatory approach, building teams and working collaboratively with communities and organizations to develop projects. These projects expand the role of architecture in neighborhoods, utilizing both small scale and long-term strategic thinking. Current works include a food based business incubator in partnership with the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation and the Virginio Ferrari Foundation Contemporary Arts Center, a museum and studio fostering community and local artists in the Washington Park area. Past work includes micro-revitalization projects in Bronzeville and mixed-use projects in Chatham. Civic Projects also designed Sugar Beet Food Coop, which has garnered national attention and is developing contemporary art spaces in Oak Park. Prior to founding Civic Projects, Monica Chadha worked at both Studio Gang Architects and Ross Barney Architects. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Strategic Consultant for Archeworks.


Founded by Renata Graw, Normal is a small, independent team of designers and creative thinkers. Based in Chicago, Normal identifies new ways to challenge how understanding of visual arts. Normal partners with strategists, writers, developers, photographers, animators, musicals, and film makers to develop bold designs through innovative techniques. Normal originated from the studio Plural Design and has created award-winning work for clients such as the Art Institute of Chicago; American Institute of Architects, the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Chicago Architecture Foundation; the DePaul Art Museum, Lyric Opera of Chicago; Steelcase, Theaster Gates Studio, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams is a visual artist who trained as an architect. Raised in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, Williams is best known for her series, Color(ed) Theory, exhibited at Chicago’s inaugural Architecture Biennial, in which she painted the exterior of soon-to-be-demolished houses using a culturally charged color palette as a way to mark the pervasiveness of vacancy and blight in black communities. Amanda is a highly sought after lecturer and the subject of many articles on the relationship between art, race, and urbanism. She, in collaboration with Andres Hernandez, is the recent recipient of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s 2017 PXSTL, a public art commission and has forthcoming exhibitions at the Arts Club of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Amanda is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Architecture, has served as an Adjunct Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Art and Design and Visual Arts in St. Louis. Amanda lives and works in Bronzeville.

Andres Hernandez

Artist, designer, and educator, Andres L. Hernandez works with youth and adults to interpret, critique, and reimagine their physical, social, and cultural environments. He is co-founder of Revival Arts Collective—a network of citizen activists committed to using arts and culture as a catalyst for community redevelopment in Chicago—and participated in the 2013/14 Artist-in-Residence Program co-sponsored by the University of Chicago's Arts + Public Life initiative and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture. Hernandez and Amanda Williams are the winners of the competition for the 2016–17 iteration of  PXSTL (Opens in a new tab), a design-build commission for a temporary structure that will transform a vacant lot in St. Louis, MO  into the site of community-based programs and events. Hernandez earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and a Master of Arts in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is Associate Professor in the Department of Art Education. He has served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts in St. Louis and is a faculty member in the Graduate Studies in Art & Design Education program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Norman Teague

Norman Teague is a South Side-based designer and educator focused on design projects and pedagogy that address the complexity of urbanism and the history of communities. Specializing in custom furniture and delivering a personal touch for each client that adds unique aesthetic, Teague’s past projects have included consumer products, fashion, public sculpture, performances, installations work, and specially designed retail spaces. In 2012, Teague worked with Theaster Gates on 12 Ballads for Huguenot House dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, which enabled material transferred from a South Side Chicago vacant building to transform the abandoned Huguenot house. He also co-founded the teen Design Apprenticeship Program at the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator in Washington Park. Teague’s retail ventures have included partnerships with Leaders1354, The Silver Room, The Exchange Cafe, Redmoon Theater, and The Art Institute Museum of Chicago. Teague holds a Bachelors of Art from Columbia College Chicago, and a Master of Fine Arts in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.