Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A big idea in a small package is about to hit Chicago's streets

As exhibit developers and designers, we're lucky to have the chance to explore intriguing topics. Like reporters on late-breaking stories, we get the scoop--sometimes from the discoverers themselves--on intriguing finds: dinosaur fossils, new (non-extinct!) species, artifacts from archaeological digs in exotic places. We get to suggest ways to present cool stuff and amazing ideas to the public. We get to tell museum audiences some thrilling stories.

And sometimes . . . we get to work on a real hidden treasure.

Something that's not just interesting, but special. A unique way of delivering a message. A gem.

That gem is the Story Bus of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History. The DuSable had the idea of putting an exhibit into a small bus, then driving that bus to neighborhood festivals, branch libraries, malls--places where school-aged children gather. This little exhibit rocks because it rolls! And while the bus is only about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, the exhibit inside covers 130 years of Chicago's growth and change, and delivers a hopeful message about a great person.

The person? Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the founder of Chicago. From the exhibit introduction:

He settled here among native peoples and raised a family. He ran a successful business, working with customers from many different places. He worked hard. He earned admiration and respect from people who knew him.

What we learned about Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable moved our entire exhibit team. The more we read about du Sable and his achievements, his creativity and his instincts as a frontiersman and entrepreneur, the more we realized what an amazing person he was.

It became clear that du Sable's story carries a powerful and relevant message for people of all ages. During this time of economic uncertainty, we can all be inspired by this man who had a vision, took a risk, and worked hard to make his way in the world. In the words of the exhibit:

Each day, we build on du Sable's legacy

Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable was the founder of what has become one of the most exciting cities in the world. Chicago has grown by leaps and bounds since du Sable's time, though, and he didn't make that happen by himself.

Chicago has been home to many famous people. But the people who built up this city, brick by brick and block by block, aren't always the ones whose names we know. Or whose autographs we'd love to have.

Du Sable's vision lives in people who work hard. Who see a need and figure out how to fill it. Who see a chance and grab it. Who help their neighbors. Who have a dream, and take a risk to make that dream come true.

Look around. Du Sable's legacy is found in people you meet each and every day. And in people like . . . you.

So keep your eyes open for the DuSable Museum Story Bus. It just might come to your neighborhood one of these days. When it does, step inside to see "Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable: Legend and Legacy." We were inspired by the story of Chicago's founder. We hope you will be too.