Chicago Cultural Alliance—Dialogue as a Tool for Community Engagement

The Chicago Cultural Alliance is a consortium of Chicago's ethnic museums, cultural centers, and historical societies whose mission is to effect social change and public understanding of cultural diversity through first voice perspectives. The Alliance connects member museums and centers to flagship arts and cultural institutions, universities, schools, businesses and government agencies.

Audience Focus

Staff and board members at ethnic museums and cultural centers in Chicago working to engage community members in cross-cultural dialogue.

Goals

  1. Build the capacity of staff at ethnic museums and cultural centers to convene public dialogues
  2. Establish museums and cultural centers as venues for community and civic engagement
  3. Train museum and cultural center staff as discussion facilitators and provide resources and coaching to support their programming
  4. Build partnerships between ethnic museums and cultural centers, and among community members across communities
CCR Director, Adam Davis, talks to participants at 2009 Chicago Cultural Alliance Training

Project Description

After a successful facilitation training in 2009, the Chicago Cultural Alliance and its core members (museums and cultural centers across the city) saw the potential of civic reflection to engage their patrons and community members. In 2010, the Center for Civic Reflection partnered with the Chicago Cultural Alliance to help develop the “Talking about…” program. "Talking about..." is a community dialogue program that strives to bring communities together to talk about issues of public concern. CCR trained 24 museum staff and board members in a customized training to build their skills in leading meaningful community dialogue, and engaged in a year-long consulting project to coach, support, and mentor museum staff as they convened community members in 16 dialogues across the city. Topics for the dialogues included elder care, immigration, healthy eating and other issues.

By actively engaging community members in civic dialogue while using the museums’ ethnographic collections and artwork as a starting point for discussion, the museums were recognized as a community center where communities could exchange ideas and talk across difference. For each discussion, two participating museums partnered to bring in multiple perspectives. Museum staff and board members developed skills in facilitating community dialogue and formed a community of peer learning and mentorship. A cohort of experienced facilitators emerged among the museums through this process, and future programming is being developed to leverage this increased capacity.

Impact

  1. Increased capacity of ethnic museums and cultural centers to host community dialogue programs.
  2. Museum staff and board members reported developing new partnerships and gaining insight about their community members as a result of convening and delivering dialogue series.
  3. Museum staff and board members applied facilitation skills that they developed to other programs beyond the "Talking about..." series.
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