New museum to bring blues history, live music to Loop


Kevin Tiongson

The new Chicago Blues Experience museum, to be built at 25 E. Washington St. by 2019, will pay tribute to the city’s contribution to blues history.

By Clair Hauser

Chicagoans will soon be able to experience live music at any time of day at the 50,000-square-foot Chicago Blues Experience museum, set to be completed in the Loop by 2019.

Originally planned to be located at Navy Pier, the museum will break ground at 25 E. Washington St., just two blocks west of Millennium Park. The museum will bring a rich cultural experience to the city, Mark Kelly, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and Columbia’s former vice president of Student Success, told The Chronicle.

“It’s not just about looking backward—but believing the evidence is there that Chicago continues to produce musicians whose sound is shaping the world around us,” Kelly said. “What’s most important is that this strengthens the blues in Chicago [and] strengthens other organizations.”

According to the museum’s website, will feature state-of-the-art interactive technology to create an immersive journey through the history of blues music. The Chicago Blues Experience is currently raising $25 million in equity capital with a projected budget of $30 million.

The plan to build the museum at Navy Pier fell through after the pier officials opted to sign a lease for a hotel development instead.

Mary Rankin, director of marketing for Chicago Loop Alliance, a group that promotes downtown development, said while CLA is not directly involved with this project, it supports the museum’s development and location.

“Many tourists and regional visitors who come to this area [are] looking for those experiences and interactions with arts and culture,” Rankin said. “It’s very appropriate for them to be in this area. Our support for these types of amenities is imperative to how we are promoting these experiences for attracting people to the Loop.”

Though the city is not providing funds for this project, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a March 27 public statement that Chicago is a prime location for the museum. Adding that it will pay tribute to the “birthplace of urban blues,” which has the benefit of attracting more tourism.

“Chicago is proud to host the Blues Experience that will help visitors from around the world connect with one of America’s greatest art forms,” Emanuel said.

Kelly added that Columbia and its murals has also contributed to the museum’s development.

“Columbia plays a big part in the story, in that the Wabash Arts Corridor’s Muddy Waters mural is right at State and Washington and will be within a stone’s throw of this museum,” Kelly said.

Bobbi Wilsyn, a senior lecturer and coordinator for voice studies in the Music Department, said she is pleased the museum will be in the Loop because it will be more accessible for her students.

Wilsyn said it is important for people to see the progression of blues music so they can see the historical importance it has on music now.

“Even on a larger scope than just our students, this is going to preserve the music that Chicago is known for, along with all the wonderful artists that come out of here,” Wilsyn said.