An unused gravel lot at the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Washington Park will be converted into a revenue-generating “event space” for weddings and corporate events, thanks to a $582,440 makeover in the works.
With $500,000 from the city and $82,440 from the Chicago Park District, the city hopes to turn 15,000 square feet of dead space along the eastern edge of the DuSable Roundhouse building into a money-maker with potential to boost museum attendance.
Stairs at the Roundhouse basement will be rebuilt. Grass, flowers and permeable pavers will be installed. Ornamental fencing will be added along the south border.
The work started Monday and is expected to be completed in time for the Chicago Architectural Biennial in September, when the DuSable Museum is expected to serve as one of six “neighborhood anchor sites.”
In a press release announcing the renovation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the new space at the nation’s oldest African-American museum a “unique location to celebrate special occasions in Washington Park.”
Earlier this year, a shake-up on the board that oversees the DuSable Museum brought in Chicago superstar Chance the Rapper; his father, Ken Bennett, and physician Eric Whitaker, a close friend of former President Barack Obama.
The elder Bennett once served as Emanuel’s chief liaison to the black community. Ken Bennett currently serves as a senior advisor to the tourist agency known as Choose Chicago.
Located at 740 E. 56th Place, the DuSable Museum has struggled financially in recent years, but has attempted to turn the tide under the leadership of President and CEO Perri Irmer.
The outdoor events space is particularly well-timed. Construction of the Obama Presidential Center in nearby Jackson Park is expected to have a spillover effect.
The DuSable Museum was founded in the living room of artists Charles and Margaret Burroughs.
Since announcement of the presidential center, the DuSable Museum’s challenge has been its capacity to capitalize on the traffic and publicity sure to be drawn by an Obama library expected to attract some 800,000 visitors annually.
The DuSable Museum has an annual budget of $4.1 million annual. Like most small niche museums, it has faced declining revenues and government funding in recent years. It saw about 100,000 visitors in 2015, compared to nearly 118,500 in 2014.