National Hellenic Museum
333 S. Halsted Street
Tue – Fri, 10am – 5pm; Sat – Sun, 11am – 5pm; Tue Evenings 5pm- 8pm
Adults: $10; Seniors & Students $8; Kids 3 – 12 years old: $7; Members & Children under 3: Free
Research Library and Oral History Center Only: $5/day or $50/year
When the new National Hellenic Museum opens in November, the space will offer a window into Chicago’s Greek community – literally.
“The museum is located at the corner of Halsted and Van Buren, the gateway to Greektown,” says curator Bethany Fleming. “There are large windows that look out over what was a thriving area in the 1800s and 1900s, and we use the windows for what we call ‘augmented reality.’ You’ll be able to take an acetate [overlay] and put it over the window to see what the area looked like 100 years ago. We can use the building to get people to see the past, present, and future.”
The Museum has existed for more than 20 years, and was started by volunteers. It has moved several times, and was most recently located above the Greek Islands Restaurant at Halsted and Adams.
“Over the past few years, we’ve expanded our offerings to include all of Greek history and culture,” Fleming says. “We have had thousands of school groups and thousands and regular visitors. We simply ran out of space.”
The museum broke ground on the new building in 2009. At 40,000 square feet, the new museum is quadruple the size it once was.
“Within that, 12,000 is exhibition space,” Fleming says. “We’ll have the permanent exhibit In Search of Home: the Greek Journey from Myth to Modern Day, about the Greek journey. The full exhibit will open in 2012, but this fall we’ll preview it.”
Besides the permanent exhibit on the second floor, the museum will have a space on the first floor for rotating exhibits. First up is Gods, Myths, and Mortals, which was put together by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. It opens December 10 and runs through next August.
“It’s about ancient Greece and geared toward families and children,” Fleming explains. “Kids can learn about Odysseus’ journey, climb into a 12-foot Trojan horse, sing karaoke with the sirens, learn to weave.”
The museum will also have special event space to host lectures and performances, classroom space, a library, and an oral history center.
“The library will have more than 10,000 books, periodicals, and archival collections,” Fleming notes. “We have rare books in modern and earlier Greek languages, as well as English language Greek texts, all available for visitors to read there.”
The oral history section features the stories of 200 Greek Americans, and the museum is continually adding to its oral history holdings. The majority of stories are those of Chicagoans and area residents.
“In the exhibit we highlight the Chicago area, and talk about Greektown, Hull House, and other areas,” Fleming says. “We look at how those neighborhoods grew and how that relates to what you see today.”