Save Us From the Likes of George and Melody

For two years now at least, Chicago has been at the mercy of George and Melody, two wealthy people seeking to build a museum in our city.  Though George and Melody are accomplished, creative, and presumably well-connected, they never tried to build local support for their idea.  They never turned to other wealthy people in the city to join up with them and share in the expense of realizing their project (as was done, for example, to get the Auditorium Theater built).  They never mustered support from other leading cultural institutions or civic leaders, which might have convinced the public of the substantial benefits that would flow from realizing their idea.

Nor did George and Melody follow the example of themost ambitious museum-builder, the late J Paul Getty, who went out and bought the real estate on which his great museums stand.

No, George and Melody’s museum was to be built on public land.  Their museum was to go up on a parcel of public property that they would lease from the city for 99 years.  The lease payment would be a dollar a year.  For the museum’s design, George and Melody turned to a foreign architectural firm, so that not even the architect’s fees ended up staying in town.

For George and Melody, Mayor Emanuel was willing to make any concession.  The city government devoted oodles of time and expertise to ‘studying’ and fighting for this wealthy couple’s idea, at a time when our schools are out of cash and children in poor neighborhoods are being shot to death.  When the courts at last gave a cold shoulder to the presumptions of George and Melody, Melody chose to play the race card, lamenting that those thwarting the museum had deprived minority children of a signal something.

How different it might have been had George and Melody displayed some sensitivity to the city’s dire condition and sought to accommodate the public’s objections to their appropriation of public land.  As it was, their initiative fell short of being truly public-spirited.  Mayor Emanuel, for his part, was too willing to give too much away.  He ignored public anger about Daley-era lease deals that left Chicago with the short end of the stick and sought to subvert the public’s determination to prevent further desecration and development of the public lakefront.  Mistakenly, Emanuel promised George and Melody something that wasn’t his to give away.  And, instead of representing the citizens’ interest throughout the negotiations, Emanuel took up a position that was inimical to theirs.

5 responses

  1. Very well and succinctly put, Susan. This whole deal just stinks and really is a slap in the face to this city that is being crushed by debt, ravaged by gun violence and school closing shift. I hear they’re considering San Fransisco now and I hope we see the back of them.

    • It’s too bad, because the idea of a narrative-arts museum has intrinsic merit; it could have a fantastic draw.
      Did the idea of the lakeside site originate with Rahm rather than George and Melody? If so, he really shot himself in the foot.

      Thanks for writing in, Pat.

  2. Is the Chicago site really a dead deal? I have not read anything to that effect.
    Yes, San Francisco is now courting Lucas, but nothing is certain at this point.

    • I think the difference is that George and Melody are now talking to SF, and that the proposed site between McCormick Place and Soldier Field is, according to the courts, a definite ‘no.’

      Blair Kamin’s suggestion that we tear down McCormick Place to build the Lucas Museum would require a billion dollars of public borrowing. Given the finances of the city, going that deeply into hock at this juncture would be true folly. Which is why I wish George and Melody had gone about their initiative differently, and that the mayor had been more thoughtful and realistic about the whole thing.

      Perhaps the principals will take a page from Daley’s book: when the budget for Millennium Park got to be exorbitant, he got Chicago’s A-list to finance his dream.