Unfinished Business

Part of Exhibition:

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Wendy Pollock

Published on September 14, 2010 , Modified on October 14, 2010

  • Description:

    The Hull-House Museum, in its newly renovated space on Chicago’s Halsted Street, has fully embraced the role of the museum in service to society. In the spirit of Jane Addams, founder of the settlement house that once was located here, this second-floor room is dedicated to the “Unfinished Business” of social justice. Off to the side, in a traditional glass case, her desk mask looks on, while visitors listen to recordings and read about a little-known “super-max” prison located nearby, where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for months at a time. One of the features is this station, where people can choose a poem from a collection of books, or write one of their own, copy it onto a postcard, and send it to an inmate of this prison, choosing from a set of stick-on address labels. A young girl was working here with concentration. The exhibit got some people, strangers when we came in, talking about the “most dangerous woman in America” (as some on the far right once called Addams), one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the ACLU. Her FBI file is displayed in a bedroom just down the hall, putting her political activity into the context of a life fully lived. For those considering ways museums can make good on the promise of being of service to society, this exhibit provides food for thought and inspiration. (I recommend Lois Silverman’s recent book “The Social Work of Museums” for more insight into connections between the settlement house tradition, social work, and museums.)

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