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Museum Hoping to Change Attitudes Over Public Housing in Illinois

A new Chicago museum exhibit brings a human face to public housing. Credit: NPHM
A new Chicago museum exhibit brings a human face to public housing. Credit: NPHM
October 5, 2015

CHICAGO – A Chicago museum is hoping its latest exhibit will help change hearts and minds when it comes to public housing.

Over the weekend, the National Public Housing Museum unveiled its We, Next Door project.

Museum Curator Todd Palmer says the museum co-created the project with a group of Chicago teens from the city's public housing developments.

"I think one of the questions the young people got to is, ‘Why is the person that owns or that pays market rate rent somehow more valued in society than those that might need a bit of help?’" he relates.

The museum and youths created an interactive experience filled with photos, collages and interviews, which Palmer says should provoke a conversation about the role public housing plays in thousands of people's lives.

It's all part of a larger showcase called House Housing. That portion of the exhibit is focused on how architecture and real estate development literally shape the world around us, and not always for the better.

Palmer's hope is that the We, Next Door project will add a creative critique to that conversation.

"So, somehow there's a sense that the people of public of housing are failures, and I think this exhibit, if anything, really pushes hard against that idea," he states.

According to the latest numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 54,000 families across Illinois use federal public housing assistance. Most are working families, many with children or disabled or elderly members.

With the exhibit, Palmer is looking to put a more human face on those public housing numbers.

"We reduce the people in it to statistics and numbers and crime figures,” he points out. “I think that bringing these nine individual stories forward, we hope change how we consider these deserving citizens."

The House Housing and We, Next Door exhibits will run in Chicago now through Jan. 3.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL