On International Museum Day, Dr. Louise Bernard describes how we’re reimagining the role of the Obama Presidential Center Museum.
Today marks International Museum Day, a day celebrated by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) since 1977. With many cultural institutions safely reopening their doors following the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme centers around not only recovering, but reimagining museums and their role in our communities.
Here on Chicago’s South Side, we’re preparing to break ground this fall on the Obama Presidential Center, which will feature a world-class museum that chronicles President and Mrs. Obama’s leadership while calling upon hundreds of thousands of visitors to envision themselves as changemakers. It will be a place to honor history while inspiring young people to write chapters of their own.
When reflecting on this year’s International Museum Day theme, it reminded me of the ways we are reimagining how to build a twenty-first century museum. From crowdsourcing unique artifacts shared by everyday people to the ways our South Side neighbors will be able to utilize a revitalized Jackson Park, we invite you to learn more about our plans and encourage you to enjoy, anew, the museums you love as they reopen their doors.
Reimagining how we collect museum artifacts
One of the questions people ask me about the Obama Presidential Center is “What types of artifacts will be on display at the Museum?” Our goal for the Museum collection is to preserve and activate a rich, multifaceted record of President and Mrs. Obama’s lives and legacy in order to share the lessons of history and to help inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we held a handful of collection events across the country, from Chicago to Iowa to Hawaiʻi, to speak face-to-face with people who have stories to share connected to the Obamas. We’ve collected, for example, a range of inspiring material, both locally and globally, from the 2008 presidential campaign—buttons, posters, banners, t-shirts, volunteer credentials—and everything in between.
And we’re just getting started. As we search for items to consider for our collection, we’ve leaned on the public to ensure a diverse range of voices and perspectives are represented through the artifacts we collect. Do you have an artifact you want to submit for consideration? Please see our artifact “wish lists” and submit information about your material at: https://www.obama.org/history/artifact.
Reimagining the potential of Jackson Park
From the beginning, President and Mrs. Obama knew there was only one place for the location of the Obama Presidential Center: the South Side of Chicago. It’s where they met, just a couple of miles from where Mrs. Obama grew up, where their daughters Malia and Sasha were born, and where President Obama first became a community organizer.
The plans to reimagine Jackson Park won’t just preserve a historic and beloved park, it will bring new opportunities and new life into the community we call home. Inspired by Mrs. Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, the Obama Presidential Center’s Fruit & Vegetable Garden will be a place where young people and community members can get their hands dirty and learn about horticulture.
We’re even reimagining how to keep sustainability at the forefront of each decision our team makes. All buildings and facilities that are part of the Obama Presidential Center will be LEED v4 Platinum Opens in a new tab , SITES Silver Opens in a new tab , and ILFI Zero Energy Opens in a new tab certified. Composting stations will be located throughout the campus and solar panels will be installed on the roof of the Garden Pavilion, helping the Center operate as a carbon neutral institution.
Lastly, we’re reimagining the public spaces in Jackson Park. The spacious green areas will provide our neighbors with a gathering space for celebrations, new gardens for them to enjoy, an imaginative new playground for their children to explore, and scenic paths for early morning jogs or afternoon strolls.
You can learn more about the Center’s environmentally sustainable design here.
Reimagining how we interact with our community
As we reimagine this space within Jackson Park where the Obama Presidential Center and Museum will call home we’re also reimagining our role in job creation and economic improvements for our South Side neighbors. Our goal is to help drive new economic opportunities and unlock the potential that has always existed in these communities.
We also believe the team that’s building the Center should look like the community it calls home. As my friend Michael Strautmanis, the Foundation’s Executive Vice President for Civic Engagement recently said, we’re trying to create something lasting with our Workforce Initiative—a program that goes beyond just building the Center, but places local community members on construction jobs across the city well into the future.
That’s why we’ve established clear goals and commitments for creating a diverse pipeline of talent at the Obama Presidential Center—both during the construction phase and in long-term onsite programs. Those commitments include setting a bar for 35 percent of the construction workforce to come from targeted areas on the South and West Sides of Chicago and 50 percent of subcontracting packages for diverse vendors; breaking down barriers in the construction industry by making it easier for diverse subcontractors to compete in bidding for the project; and engaging the community through a partnership with local workforce development organizations to train 400 new apprentices.
We’re also looking at development opportunities for our long-term onsite programs once the Center is open. Much like with our construction workforce initiative, we want to change the face of who is typically hired at museums by diversifying the Center’s workforce from the start, in line with the Foundation’s mission to make a lasting impact in the lives of people in Chicago.
All together, these plans are expected to create 5,000 full and part-time jobs during construction, and 2,500 jobs in the local community once the Center is open and operating. You can explore how you can help build the Center, including job opportunities, here.