Chandra Rouse, MUP 2019

Summer 20118

Organization: South East Chicago Commission, Chicago, IL

Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship


“Art is the backbone of cultural life in Chicago. Artists also provide an important economic contribution as creative entrepreneurs who work at the intersection of creativity and innovation. During my second week, I worked on developing a strategy to drive economic development through the arts. My research involved learning about the constellation of cultural institutions that support artist communities.

My second week began with a retreat hosted by a network of some of the largest museums and cultural institutions in the South Side called the Museum Campus South. Established in 2014, Museum Campus South (MCS) exists as a consortium of cultural institutions located on the mid-South Side of Chicago. The consortium’s mission is to grow audiences for all of the participating organizations while strengthening local communities and respective relationships with their constituents. They do this by encouraging new and repeat visitors from the extended Chicagoland region and beyond.

At the retreat, some museum representatives remarked on the constant new stories about violence in the South Side and how the news deters people from visiting their institutions. The comments reflected how planning is about more than the design of space. It is also about the stories we tell about the space. Furthermore, it highlighted how particularly damaging fear-based narratives are for residents of the South Side and their local institutions. Fear-based narratives refer to 1) Those who are living in fear, like fear of gentrification, police or an economic recession and 2) Those who cause fear, like gang members or criminals. Fear-based story telling reinforces the idea that fear is the axis of how everyone in the South Side lives every moment of their lives.

Museums also tell stories. The MCS is an opportunity to facilitate the production of stories that capture how people on the South Side live on an axis of joy as opposed to an axis of fear. This is not about further dividing an already segregated city nor about ignoring fear and its root cause. This is about having a deep and critical understanding of experience, history and culture of Chicago’s South Side. The MCS can reflect the shared values of the participating museums and institutions while also reflecting the history that produced the cultural assets we see today in the South Side.

As a collection of museums and cultural institutions, MCS serves as a microscope for all visitors to see the world up close as well as serve as a mirror to reflect and amplify local histories. I envision MCS as a vehicle to challenge many fear-based narratives about the South Side and to showcase the many cultures that exist inside and outside the South Side through coordinated exhibits and events. By the end of the retreat, challenging fear-based narratives became not only a critical component of my vision for MCS but also for my broader economic development strategy.”