the floating museum rendering

Conceptual art museum opens its (figurative) doors

By: Anna Boisseau

The Floating Museum doesn’t float- yet. But look for it on the Chicago River next summer. That’s when local sculptors Faheem Majeed and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford and architect Andrew Schachman, the creators, hope to have a finished structure that will move through Chicago by land and water.

But first and foremost, the Floating Museum is more than physical space. It’s a concept, focused on community building, that is meant to act like a moveable island linking Chicago’s smaller, neighborhood cultural centers and major players like the Art Institute and the Joffrey Ballet.

Despite Chicago’s flourishing art scene, the Floating Museum team saw a need for a collective space to bring institutions together. “The point is not just that everyone comes into this third space,” said Majeed. “The point is that everyone leaves better.”

“The point is not just that everyone comes into this third space. The point is that everyone leaves better.”

Majeed, Hulsebos-Spofford, and Schachman intend to do this through collaborative programming and exhibitions, which will start in three Chicago parks this summer. Through a residency with the Chicago Park district, the museum will begin hosting events in July in cultural centers in Calumet City, Austin, and West Pullman.

Peg Board

This peg board is one of the current ideas for an exhibition space in Austin Town Hall. Its structure would make it easy for the community to change and add to the display. (ANNA BOISSEAU/MEDILL)

Unlike a traditional museum, the Floating Museum doesn’t intend to bring in its own collection or programming. Instead, the team wants to bring in additional resources to support the creative work already happening in neighborhoods.

According to Majeed, the museum is meant to adapt to the needs of each area. In Austin, that means contributing to a cultural festival in the beginning of August, and helping design an exhibition space. In Calumet City, this means working with with the historical society to figure out how to increase their reach beyond the neighborhood. One possibility is developing a joint lecture series to tie together their artifacts with objects found at a larger institution like the Art Institute.

“I really love their attention to community desires and interests,” said Meida McNeal, the arts and culture manager for Chicago Parks District. “They have been very careful about shaping their residencies with the input of the community.”

As it currently exists, the Floating Museum “floats” because of its city-wide programming. But eventually, the team of creators plans to make an actual structure, which can physically move through diverse parts of the city, especially ones with less access to major city museums.

“This can move through the neighborhoods in the way that Chicagoans won’t and don’t,” said Majeed.

WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?

Calumet City Rendering

Majeed, Hulsebos-Spofford, and Schachman plan to build a temporary prototype for the Floating Museum out of scaffolding in Calumet City. (COURTESY OF FLOATING MUSEUM)

Though the Floating Museum is a work in progress right now, this summer Calumet City will play host to a prototype for the museum’s eventual structure. Majeed, Hulsebos-Spofford, and Andrew aren’t in the market for a permanent location, and that’s how they intend to keep it. They’re planning on building the Floating Museum out of scaffolding, which provides structure for temporary exhibits but is adjustable.

As the museum’s existence hinges on people instead of place, the team behind it is building a network of partners instead of a permanent location. They intend to bring more and people and cultural centers into the fold to contribute work.

“We’re institution building, but without a building,” said Hulsebos-Spofford.
The scaffolding will be collapsible, with instructions for how to recreate the Floating Museum whenever a space is needed for a collaborative exhibit.

“We like the idea of [The Floating Museum] being temporary, fitting together, and then disappearing,” said Majeed of the concept behind the project. “It comes together when it needs to come together, but the Floating Museum always exists because of the people who are attached to it.”

Calumet City Exhibition Space

This is what the prototype’s exhibition space in Calumet City might look like. (COURTESY OF FLOATING MUSEUM )

Another reason for avoiding a permanent location is to better focus fundraising efforts. According to Hulsebos-Spofford, cultural centers often end up spending a huge portion of the money they raise on building upkeep. He and Majeed instead want to use funds for exhibitions and programming that will bring players from all over the Chicago arts scene into the same room.

“I think in a lot of ways, no matter how big your brick and mortar is, you’re dealing with people,” said Majeed. “Sometimes, when the building fund gets too big, you kind of lose sight of that.”

WHAT KIND OF ART WILL THEY EXHIBIT?

Part of the Floating Museum’s goal is to challenge the accepted definition of what makes a museum and what it should do. Hulsebos-Spofford described the reverence many museum-goers adopt as soon as they walk through the doors of somewhere like the Art Institute. For example, he recently took his in-laws to the museum and recounted that “suddenly, their mood changed, and it was like really serious.”

Hulsebos-Spofford said he appreciates places where art can be put on a pedestal, but this is exactly what the Floating Museum wants to avoid.

“We’re not saying that museums shouldn’t exist,” said Majeed. “We’re artists. We love them.” Instead, Majeed argued that the Floating Museum is meant to build up existing cultural and community centers by bringing new voices in.

Faheem Majeed Studio Space

“We’re not saying that museums shouldn’t exist,” said Majeed. “We’re artists. We love them.”

According to Majeed, the origin story of the DuSable Museum inspired his ideas about institution building. The museum of African American history started to take shape in founder Margaret Burroughs’ home. She began a small collection because she wanted to show more diverse art to her students. “The community called it a museum,” said Majeed, who said Burroughs influenced his art.

One of the ways the Floating Museum wants to challenge traditional institutions is by rethinking what having a collection means. The project hopes to give the public authorship and ownership over the museum’s collection practices, exhibitions and programming. Majeed and Hulsebos-Spofford want to encourage people to consider what objects they deem precious, and contribute those to the Floating Museum’s collection. They hope this practice will cultivate a more inclusive Chicago art scene.

Majeed said he thinks museums want to reach out to diverse parts of the city, but that sometimes the environment doesn’t feel inviting to newcomers. “They’re like, ‘Welcome, we’re glad you’re here. Okay don’t touch [the art],’” he said of the seriousness at many museums.

The Floating Museum Plan

The Floating Museum team plots programs and next steps at their Mana Contemporary studio space at 2233 South Throop Street. (ANNA BOISSEAU/MEDILL)

To combat this approach, Majeed and Hulsebos-Spofford want to host exhibits that ask different institutions across the city to contribute 10 objects. This could include the rights to reproduce a famous painting at the Art Institute for a local show. Then, attendees could pick up copies of the piece and draw on it, exploring ways to change the work completely.

“As opposed to someone from Calumet going to the Art Institute and seeing a painting on the wall,” said Hulsebos-Spofford. “Maybe it’s more precious if they’re able to pick up this image and move it around.”

WHAT’S NEXT

As the Floating Museum is beginning its programming this summer, they are still adapting their plans as they bring new partners into the fold. They imagine that some of their current ideas will change after the prototype goes live in Calumet City. And that’s kind of the point.

“Every time we bring someone into the conversation, the structure starts to evolve,” said Maheed. “Museums should adapt to a changing demographic. Museums should be able to tap into different parts of the city.”

“Museums should adapt to a changing demographic. Museums should be able to tap into different parts of the city.”

For now, the Floating Museum is still finding its footing. That means listening to the arts community to learn how to best be a collaborative space.

“The floating museum is people. It’s a network, and that network is growing,” said Majeed.

Image at Top: The team designed this prototype for what a floating structure could look like. (COURTESY OF THE FLOATING MUSEUM