Museum of Broadcast Communications on Hiatus

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Last week, the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn blogged about the continuing trials and tribulations of building the new River North home of Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC). The museum, founded in 1987 and one of only three broadcast museums in the country, left its longtime home at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2003 in preparation for moving into swanky new digs next to Marina City at the corner of State and Kinzie streets. Unfortunately, as E-Z Writer tells it, the museum building just can’t seem to finish getting built.

Everyone who lives here in the corncobs has watched the concrete and glass museum structure morph out of the shell of that corner’s former parking garage. But construction has only come in spits and spurts, a month or two of concrete pouring followed by six or seven months of idled equipment and boarded-up entryways. As the “coming soon” sign announcing MBC’s arrival weathered and faded, rumors of the museum’s impending arrival began to reify into myth. I’d all but written off life as we know it ever existing again at the southwest corner of State and Kinzie.

E-Z’s blog post doesn’t instill much hope. Zorn noted that in five months time, MBC is set to host a celebration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal speech. Unfortunately, that celebration will be hosted in exile, since construction on the new museum building, originally set to open in 2006, was halted entirely last year for lack of funds. The museum came up $7 million short on its $22 million construction bill, due to “delays, disputes, and misunderstandings” regarding financing the project (probably explaining its heretofore staccato construction timeline).

I could go a variety of ways on this as regular readers know, but I’ll take the high road here. Coming up fully one-third short on construction financing for a major Chicago cultural institution is a bad thing, for sure, and likely the result of bad capital planning and development work. But putting that aside (though my tongue is almost bleeding as I do), how come MBC hasn’t exactly publicized the fact that its construction funding and, really, future existence are in jeopardy?

How many stories have you read about the museum’s dire financial straits? How many public calls have you heard for aid? Beyond a scant few asides and mentions found in a gaggle of Google searches, I know I can’t turn up much information.

Why is that?

There are two choices when you’re monetarily stuck between a rock and a hard place. Succeeding or failing. One of those two choices involves setting your pride aside. Guess which one?

While Millennium Park was overshooting it’s millennial deadline year by year due to construction and financing issues, park planners were out there schmoozing, and cajoling, and putting the ask on Chicagoans of means–and letting the world know about it in the media. The strategy worked.

Chicago’s hoi polloi loves nothing more than to come out as heroes for Hogtown’s cultural institutions. But who’s going to come to the aid of MBC when it won’t even admit there’s a problem? Where’s the photo opportunity in that? Self-aggrandizement may be selfish, but it’s also human nature.

Seems to me, MBC’s sotto voce zeal to attract private angels may be keeping more public ones at bay. I’ll leave it to you to decide which category is more crowded.

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