Thursday, April 16, 2020
Faced with restrictions on public gatherings pausing its acclaimed, immensely popular city tours and river cruises, the Chicago Architecture Center moved quickly to turn itself inside out. Beginning March 26, the organization launched the weekly mini magazine [email protected], plus the online series CAC Live and CAC For the Family, while the Center’s riverfront galleries remain temporarily closed to locals and international guests alike. Staff members have worked remotely full-time since March 16.
“Like so many of our peers in the cultural nonprofit space, we at the CAC were already committed to bolstering our online engagement strategies—especially given the nature of our audience, which includes visitors from around the world,” says CAC President and CEO Lynn J. Osmond. “The global public health crisis caused by the coronavirus shifted this goal for us dramatically, from a work-in-progress to a mission-critical, all-hands-on-deck effort to sustain our organization.”
The audience for these new efforts is even bigger than the number of people that can fit into nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibition space at 111 East Wacker Drive. Across [email protected], social media channels and visits to the CAC website, the organization estimates its average daily reach at more than 100,000 individuals. Alongside one-time-only CAC Live events featuring architecture experts, design practitioners, acclaimed authors and industry leaders, CAC Live also engages the organization’s corps of more than 600 docents and volunteers through online talks and virtual tours, stories to inspire Chicagoans to explore their own neighborhoods, and submissions to CAC Recommends—a weekly roundup of media endorsements for design lovers.
The multifaceted institution, founded in 1966, is also sensitive to household needs. “Families are currently challenged by working from home, supporting their kids’ learning and keeping everyone occupied,” says CAC Vice President of Education and Audience Engagement Nicole Kowrach. “The CAC Education team has moved quickly to support them, offering ways for parents and other caregivers or educators—and not just in Chicago—to educate and inspire.” Live and prerecorded videos for kids include new episodes released weekly of Architecture Essentials, expanding design know-how and problem-solving skills through activities and interactive challenges; Neighborhood Strollers, brief introductions to design fundamentals and architectural history through easy walks around the block; and Storytime with the CAC, read-alongs of CAC staff members’ favorite children’s books. Select CAC For the Family programs are offered in both English and Spanish.
All CAC Live events focused on the coronavirus will be free to the general public and begin with Lessons from Seattle: An Interview with Planning Chief Samuel Assefa, at noon CST on April 23.
“From celebrating Chicago’s architectural past, to examining how the pandemic will shift urban life, to just offering fun stories and cultural experiences from far-off places, the CAC has you covered,” says CAC Senior Curator Michael Wood. “And you know what? We’re finding it’s a really fun medium, a chance to meet all sorts of different folks. At one of our very first online events, we had attendees join us from three continents, including one couple who chose to celebrate their wedding anniversary by taking our class. How about that?”