In this challenging time, I am grateful to be able to work with the AFC’s rich online collections, particularly the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, or as I like to call it: the gift that keeps on giving. For over two years, I have been digging into this collection, and the gems just keep popping up. Although, it can take some time to navigate through the collection, as it offers over 300 sound recordings and 14,000 photographs, and detailed fieldnotes and reports to bring deeper context. So, it is helpful to have a little guidance, an encouraging pathway into uncovering its many treasures…
With that said, we are pleased to announce the AFC’s newest Story Map, Homegrown Pride: Chicago’s Community Cultural Centers in 1977 and Today, which was largely produced by 2019 Bartis Intern Edward Wang. I worked with Ed as he shaped it, swooping in towards the end to finalize all its splendid details (special thanks to Tim St. Onge in the Geography and Map Division). As its title reveals, Homegrown Pride guides readers into the vibrant world of Chicago’s many community-based cultural centers and organizations, as represented in the online Chicago collection, making stops at several centers along the way to learn about their histories and contemporary functions.
The online Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection is based on the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project, the first of a series of AFC-sponsored field surveys that were undertaken from the late 1970s through the 1990s in different regions and places across the country. A good number of these survey collections have also been digitized and made available on the Library’s website, and I highly recommend checking out the recent Story Map that explores all of the AFC field surveys in one, convenient place!
Undertaken predominantly in 1977, the Chicago survey was led by fourteen AFC folklorists and two photographers. Over the course of several months, they fanned out across the city and suburbs and into a wide range of neighborhoods, documenting living cultural traditions, practices, and expressions of approximately twenty-five cultural communities – from Polish American parades and Greek American embroidering traditions to street murals on the South Side’s Jazz Alley and musical performances of Puerto Rican and Mexican American communities, among numerous others.
The collection’s greatest strength is its wide-angle view into the region’s cultural diversity at a time of great political, economic, and social change. As such an invaluable resource, discoverable from couches around the world, the AFC has been exploring collaborations with community-based organizations and larger cultural institutions in Chicago not only to foster meaningful engagement with the collection (and raise awareness of it in source contexts), but also to co-facilitate community-guided, public programming inspired by it.
Indeed, one remarkable facet of the collection is its documentation of a substantial number of community cultural centers that, to this day, are operating throughout the region. For those who may not be familiar with Chicagoland, it is chock full of community-led museums, cultural centers, and other related organizations, such as the American Indian Center, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, the Swedish American Museum, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, the National Hellenic Museum, the Haitian American Museum, and the DuSable Museum of African American History, to name only a few.
A good number of these centers and museums were founded around the time of the 1977 survey project, or were established within a decade or so before it. As they were relatively new at that time, AFC fieldworkers had the opportunity to interview many of their founders and other leading staff members. For instance, Kurt Mathiasson, the founder and director of the Swedish American Museum, was interviewed by folklorist Jens Lund, and among others, there is an interview with Dr. Margaret Burroughs, the co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, as well as one with Alford Waters, the Director of the American Indian Center, which is the first urban American Indian Center in the U.S. (established in 1953).
Brought together into one place, Homegrown Pride tells a story about these community-based cultural organizations, museums, and centers that are represented in the collection: in particular, the American Indian Center, the Swedish American Museum, the Polish Museum of America, the German American Cultural Center, the Norway Center and Minnekirken, the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and the Luthuanian Youth Center. As you scroll through it, you will be able to see on a map where they were located in 1977 at the time they were documented – or in some cases still are located – and as you continue to scroll, you can learn about each of them through photos and interviews with key community leaders.
I hope you enjoy it!