Catch the Museum Floating Through the Chicago River

On a converted barge, the Floating Museum reflects on Chicago’s industrial past and cultural present

River Assembly
A rendering of how a performance on the Floating Museum's moving exhibit "River Assembly" Floating Museum

Despite its name, Chicago's so-called "Floating Museum" started off landlocked when it launched its first temporary pavilion in Calumet Park in 2016. But now, the pop-up museum has finally taken to the water, charting a course through the Chicago River this summer, reports Jason Foumberg for Chicago magazine.

Since the museum first embarked on "River Assembly" on July 31, dozens of artists and performers have been featured on the 100-square-foot industrial barge. The installation, currently docked at the Chicago Riverwalk​, will travel to its final stop at Chicago's famed Navy Pier on August 28.

The endeavor is a part of the mobile museum's mission to bring free art and culture to the public. Before it hit the water, the Floating Museum's name drew on its mission to "float" around Chicago, as it brought art and culture to neighborhoods away from the hubbub of downtown—particularly bringing its exhibitions to underserved areas, reports Anna Boisseau of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism

Artist Faheem Majeed, one of four directors at the Floating Museum, told Chicago's Newcity Art in 2015  that the museum was inspired by the origin story of the DuSable Museum of African American History, whose mission was to serve as a bridge between communities and institutions. In keeping with those goals, the Floating Museum​ has no permanent location, but instead collaborates with other institutions and sets up pop-up exhibits, like the pavilion built last year, which showcased performances and rotating artistic works.

"River Assembly" includes projections of fringe films and digital artwork, a massive sculpture of Chicago's first permanent settler, Haitian Jean Baptiste du Sable and even a choir concert with songs reflecting the Flint lead crisis and Emmett Till's murder.

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

Combining the past and present in its aquatic installation, "River Assembly" also intends to add its own contribution to the river it runs along. Long seen as polluted, industrial waterway that reflected Chicago's past as a hub of manufacturing, agriculture and shipping, the Chicago River has recently undergone an extensive cleaning and restoration transforming the waterway into a beloved recreational space

As the museum puts it in a statement"The museum will expand the river’s transformation into a stage for our city’s world-class artists, performers and diverse community stakeholders."

Catch "River Assembly" on view at the Chicago Riverwalk (between LaSalle and Clark Streets) until August 28. "River Assembly" will then continue onto its final stop on Navy Pier, where it will be docked until September 29.

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