When a city hosts an important event that attracts visitors and attention from around the world, most people think of the buildup that precedes the event and then the event itself. Once the event is over, however, many of us turn our attention to the next big thing. For a city, this time after the event can be a blessing or a curse. Can you harness the civic pride, the positive energy, and the collected resources to make your city better than it was before? Can the event leave a lasting legacy for future generations? Or do you succumb to the post-event letdown, letting the excitement and motivation trickle away with the guests and attention?
We experienced something like this in my city of Indianapolis not long ago. The city bid for, and was awarded, the honor of hosting Super Bowl XLVI. The city had 5 years to prepare for an event that would bring in an estimated 150,000 visitors and $250 million into the city. It was an exciting time leading up to the event, and the city shined brightly on its world stage. We’ve yet to see the lasting legacy the event will have on the city, but in short hindsight it improved our downtown, revitalized a neglected part of our near-eastside, and gave us a confidence that can’t easily be shaken.
I thought about this as Elena and I toured a new exhibit hosted by The Field Museum in Chicago. Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair takes visitors back to an exciting time in Chicago. Emerging from the ashes of a fire that destroyed much of the city just over 20 years earlier, Chicago became the darling of the world. The World’s Fair showcased a vibrant American city and brought 25 million people to the Fair between its opening on May 1, 1893 and the close of the Fair on October 30 of the same year.
The exhibit is a one-of-a-kind experience, allowing visitors to imagine what it must’ve been like for residents of Chicago and Fair-goers alike. You are transported back in time and given a rare glimpse into more than 200 objects that haven’t been on display to the public since the World’s Fair 120 years ago.
“Rare” oils, such as olive oil (!) were part of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair exhibit. To think, 120 years later I can pop into Wal-Mart and buy 20 different varieties of olive oil if I wanted.
While the World’s Fair obviously had an enormous impact on the city both during and soon after the event, I was amazed to consider the lasting legacy it’s provided to the city over a century later. The Field Museum was born out of the World’s Fair, opening in the building which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry a few months after the World’s Fair ended. The Field Museum is home to 50,000 artifacts from the World’s Fair, with hundreds on display in the Museum’s permanent collections. The Field Museum, along with the beautiful grounds that surround it, attract visitors like me, from both near and far, year round.
I also couldn’t help considering how the Field Museum continues to stay relevant while maintaining a connection to its past. Visitors can download The Field Museum Tours mobile app (free) for iPhone or Android to enhance their experience of the tour. Not only do you get additional details about artifacts within the World’s Fair exhibit, it can help you find other objects from the World’s Fair on display in other collections throughout the museum – a digital scavenger hunt, if you will!
Additional digital interactive experiences allow visitors to use today’s technology to learn more about the Museum’s original collections. Elena spent a long time exploring this particular example, in which visitors can use a large touch screen to see inside and learn more about a mummy that was originally displayed at the World’s Fair. As new technologies emerge, the Museum is constantly revisiting some of its original objects to see what else they (and we) can learn.
Whether you live in Chicago or are a visitor to the city like me, I highly recommend you make a visit to Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair during its limited time at The Field Museum. It will give you a new appreciation for how cultural events can shape and transform a city, even a century and a brand new era later. The exhibit is open now through September 7, 2014.
I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, however all content and opinions expressed here are my own.