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UIC awarded NEA grant for mobile museum project

By Erin Vogel @eringejuice

For RedEye

3:14 PM CDT, May 9, 2013

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A University of Illinois at Chicago project to bring a mobile history museum to the city is rolling forward thanks to a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts the school received this week.

The grant will finance the design and development of “History Moves,” a mobile public history museum--the brainchild of Jennifer Brier, UIC associate professor of gender and women’s studies.

Brier hopes the mobile museum will serve as a unique space to collect and display significant aspects of Chicago’s history for all of its residents to see, no matter where they live. She came up with the idea a few years ago while curating an exhibition on LGBT history, “Out in Chicago,” at the Chicago History Museum. During that time she met with panels of museum visitors to get their input on what they wanted to see from the exhibit.

“What became clear to me in many ways was that once something in this town is set on a corner, wherever the corner is--whether it’s 75th and Halsted or North and Clark--it defines the people who think the exhibit is for them,” Brier said.

That experience--combined with an inspiration that arose from her 2-year-old’s truck obsession--gave her the idea to combine the concept of developing a museum project based on collaboration with one of her son’s favorite things: wheels.

Currently, Brier and the other developers behind the project plan to present exhibitions in seven-month periods on the mobile museum that travels to places in the city such as libraries, schools, and Park District parking lots, possibly with other local wheel-based businesses and organizations such as food trucks, the Night Ministry and mobile produce aisle Fresh Moves.

Every winter, “History Moves” would work with different community organizations such as the Immigrant Youth Justice League, South Side Community Arts Center, Chicago Cultural Alliance, and Read/Write Library to curate a new interior for the mobile museum for the spring and summer.

Brier said that so far the response to the project has been uniformly positive.

“People love it,” she said. “It’s a project that makes people really happy.”

 The $20,000 from the NEA will allow Brier and the project’s leaders to begin the initial stages of planning and developing the bus that will house the mobile museum. They have already applied for several other grants to fund the museum’s actual construction. If all goes well on the funding side, Brier estimated that “History Moves,” could become a reality in about three years, although nothing’s definite yet.

“We’re really just thinking about what it means for something to be what I call ‘old-school mobile,’ not just mobile in an app,” Brier said. “But real mobile--on wheels, mobile.”

UIC was among 817 nonprofit organizations in the country that received this year’s NEA Art Works grant.

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