American Writers Museum Opens on Michigan Avenue

Chicago Scenic worked closely with Andy Anway, founder and principal at Amaze Design in Boston for more than 12 months to develop his design concepts and bring them to life at The American Writers Museum, the nation’s newest museum, now open and located on Chicago’s celebrated Michigan Avenue.

The 11,000 sq. ft. museum’s objective is to engage visitors (and readers) of all ages and at many different levels, to enrich and deepen their appreciation for writers and writing in all forms.

Many interactives that Chicago Scenic developed invite that engagement, such as the “American Voices” timeline in the “Writer’s Hall”, explains Jim Mallerdino, Chicago Scenic’s Senior Project Manager for the AWM project.

“American Voices” is an 80-foot, multilayered interactive that features 100 American writers from the 1700’s through the early 1960’s. Visitors flip displays, view video screens and absorb brief capsules of information. The “Surprise Bookshelf”, also located in Writer’s Hall, features boxes that slide open to disclose a hidden tidbit about the writer’s life and work, delivered through words, graphics, video clips, or the occasional surprise artifact.

Nestled into the end of the Writer’s Hall long hallway is a restful and hypnotic digital “Word Waterfall”. Seemingly random letters assemble as brief quotes from writers—Kurt Vonnegut to Langston Hughes—then slide away in a cascade of water with an accompanying soundtrack provided by nature.

Other museum highlights include a children’s area that features an original mural painted by Paul O. Zelinsky that will entertain children with its whimsical collection of squirrels reading or snoozing in treetops. In the Readers Hall, visitors have an opportunity to lounge and read or linger for a moment and begin to write their own masterpiece on authentic clattering typewriters. That space serves double-duty, also acting as a gathering place during the Museum’s planned social and learning events. Visitors can also currently view beat-generation writer Jack Kerouac’s typewritten paper scroll, brown with age, of "On the Road."The scroll is on temporary loan, and will be followed by a rotation of other future temporary exhibits.

One of the major highlights of the project, Mallerdino adds, was managing the large team of specialty subcontractors who contributed to the Museum’s success, while still maintaining the fabrication schedule. “The graphics alone—nearly 1,000 of them—created an organizational challenge.”

The large team of specialty subcontractors and specialists who contributed to the Museum’s inviting, technological interactives was invaluable.Those partners include Northern Light Productions out of Boston, who created the software for four large Ideum touchscreen table interactives, Silver Oaks Communications in Moline, IL, who developed the media for additional interactives and Media Dynamics Inc. in Milwaukee, who developed the Anatomy of a Masterwork interactive. Supporting the interactive and media development, Creative Technology provided AV system design, integration, hardware and installation. Protolight provided additional system and lighting integration and control to the exhibits.

The Museum was the brainchild of Malcolm E. O’Hagen, a retired executive from Washington, D.C. and a current member of the museum’s Board of Directors. Carey Cranston is the institution’s inaugural President.