Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Freedom Proves Fleeting

Ah, the wonders of PRspeak.

"Exciting New Changes at the Freedom Museum" heralds their website.

Translation: We're Closing!

Less than three years after it's original opening in a low-rise annex to Tribune Tower, the McCormick Freedom Museum has announced it will be shutting its doors on March 1. After spending $10,000,000 to create the 10,000 square foot facility, the McCormick Foundation is shutting it down to focus on "outreach", a mobile facility barnstorming area schools and neighborhoods. Has a nice fig-leaf-like ring to it, no?

Clearly, the public rationale hides some private machinations only hinted at in reports in Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune. McCormick Foundation CEO David Grange told Crain's the museum was "meeting the objectives we set." He tells the Trib "The number of people going to museums in general has been declining," yet admits that attendance at the Freedom Museum doubled last year, to 100,000, after a $5.00 admission fee was dropped.

"At Wellman Federal Savings, money is never mentioned," goes the old Second City mockumercial, but behind the Freedom Museum's closing, as at Wellman, money would appear to be a primary motivator. The McCormick Foundation has apparently decided its better to write off a $10,000,000 investment rather than to continue to throw cash at the museum's operation.Bankrupt landlord The Tribune Company, selling off assets to forestall liquidation, is shedding no tears over the departure of its tenant. Crain's quotes a spokesman as saying, “We look at the real estate as a wonderful bit of space", for which they will seeking "the best and most lucrative use."

You can read what I wrote about the Museum at the time of its opening here. Designed by VOA Associates with bright exhibits by Gallagher & Associates, it's two-story atrium is dominated by 12151791, a spiral sculpture by Peter Bernheim and Amy Larimer that resembles a tree whose metal leaves are embossed with the words of key moments in the history of freedom. I don't think it's going to fit into the van.

Some things worked, some didn't. The museum was a mixed bag, but it was a bright, welcome respite to the sprawling galleries of conspicuous consumption outside, a/k/a the Mag Mile. It was a bracing counterpoint reminding us that - the way we spend our average days notwithstanding - freedom is about far more serious things, with far serious demands, than the freedom to choose from an infinity of cell phone models.

Museums need time to evolve and mature. The Freedom Museum dies in infancy. 445 N. Michigan. Check it out one last time before March 1st.

1 comment:

Matt Maldre said...

that's so sad. that was an interesting museum. They had very thought-provoking exhibits. What in the world is this mobile facility barnstorming area schools and neighborhoods. Last I checked, that location was pretty much set in that location. Is there some sort of space warp abilities that the Tribune has suddenly acquired?