Sneak Peek: The Obama Presidential Center
By JACQUELINE LEWIS
After several years of will-they, won’t-they updates widely in the press, the Obama Presidential Center finally broke ground in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side in September 2021. Though still early in the construction process, plans for the Center and its promised programs herald an exciting cultural and artistic addition to a part of the city that often receives less development and attention than North Side neighborhoods.
Most notably the Center's architecture is designed to embody ascension: the building appears to move upward towards the sky, symbolizing Obama’s own grassroots movement that started with little and ultimately made him the first African American President of the United States. The Center’s shape visualizes hands coming together to honor all of the hands that shaped America and now the Center itself. On the side of the main building a portion of one of Obama’s speeches will be visibly carved, with words honoring those who crossed the Edmund Peters Bridge in Selma, Alabama, highlighting their strength and courage in a new time and place. The Obama Center's ambitious goal, made real through its physical structure, is to tell a full story of America, including the voices of the unheard.
Barack Obama has said, “Part of what makes Chicago a world-class city is its cultural and artistic institutions.” The Obama Foundation has made it a goal to include Chicago artists in the creation of the Center, notably commissioning a sculpture by Richard Hunt, who was born in nearby Woodlawn and raised in Englewood. At age 86 Hunt continues to be a prolific titan of Chicago art. Hunt’s sculpture for The Center, titled Book Bird and depicting a bird breaking joyfully out of an opened book, will be placed in the Library Reading Garden outside of the new Chicago Public Library branch on the Obama Presidential Center campus. ‘Book Bird’ will depict how reading and learning allows readers to enter new places and fly free, according to the Center's website. Hunt states that the sculpture “encapsulates the progress one can make through reading and studying” and it will help visitors find their own wings to The Obama Center and well beyond.
More information about plans for the Center may be found here.