Despite being $5 million short on funding, the president of a museum planned to honor American writers seemed confident Tuesday that the museum would reach its goal of a 2017 opening in Chicago.
“What could be more worthy than an American writers museum?” said museum president Malcolm E. O’Hagan at a press conference Tuesday at the Chicago Cultural Center. “It doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. What an opportunity for people to step forward and present a gift to the nation and to Chicago.”
Though plans for the American Writers Museum have been in the works since 2010, this is the first time a location has been mentioned: 180 N. Michigan Ave., just a half-block from the north end of Millennium Park.
Initially a pipe dream from O’Hagan, who has said he was inspired by Ireland’s Dublin Writers Museum, the nonprofit museum planned for Chicago still needs to raise $5 million before its potential opening in 2017.
The museum has already received grants from the Chicago Community Trust, Exelon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. Though it was uncertain Tuesday as to exactly how much money had been raised to date, in 2014, O’Hagan had raised around a million dollars for the museum, according to reporting from the New York Times.
In that same article, O’Hagan – the former CEO of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association – stressed that he had chosen Chicago after receiving a “warm welcome” from both former Mayor Richard M. Daley and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The museum’s website already features extensive design plans, including interactive touchscreen features, a hall dedicated to showcasing Chicago writers Studs Terkel and Lorraine Hansberry, and a children’s area with a virtual “ink fountain” and “word tornado.”
Both Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Ald. Edward Burke (14th Ward) were on hand to show their support Tuesday – with Preckwinkle emphasizing her excitement for the project as a former teacher, while Burke – who’s backed the museum for years – said he was confident the museum would act as a draw for tourists.
“Regional tourism is vital to the future of our great city,” Burke said. “And this museum will likewise serve as a beacon of hope, illuminating new pathways and inspiring students and generations yet to come.”
The museum will lease the space at 180 N. Michigan Ave. for 10 years, eventually realizing an even greater, larger space for the institution depending on its initial reception, O’Hagan said Tuesday.
If it moves forward, the plan for the museum is to focus less on artifacts and authors’ physical manuscripts and more on web-based exhibits, writer talks and interactive displays that allow visitors to digitally engage with literature.