Chicago's National Hellenic Museum is dedicated to promoting Greek culture. Located in the city's popular Greektown district, the current museum building opened in 2011. The museum contains thousands of artifacts spanning Greek history from ancient Greece to Greek Americans in the present day. It has multiple permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as an extensive research library. The museum also engages in community outreach with educational programs such as lectures, language classes, and culture classes.
Hundreds of thousands of Greeks immigrated to the United
States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in search of better
economic opportunities. Most of them settled in large metropolitan areas,
particularly New York, Boston, and Chicago. Many Greeks in Chicago lived
together in a neighborhood that came to be known as Greektown. Originally
Greektown was located around the Halstead, Harrison, and Blue Island areas, but
the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway and the University of Illinois at
Chicago forced the community to move several blocks north. It was once one of
the most vibrant ethnic communities in the city; today it is primarily a
commercial district, home to many Greek restaurants and other businesses.
In 1983 the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center was
founded in Chicago to promote Greek culture. It did not have a physical facility
open to the public until 1992 when it opened in a location on Michigan Avenue.
In 2004 the museum moved to a temporary space in the fourth floor of a building
on South Adams Street in Greektown and announced its intentions to build a
permanent location. After years of planning and fundraising, construction began
on the new museum building in 2010 at the corner of Van Buren and Halsted
Streets, on the site of a former hardware store. By this time the museum had
been renamed the National Hellenic Museum as part of a rebranding effort in
2008. The new museum building was completed and opened to the public in 2011.
The four-story, 40,000 square-foot facility incorporates elements of Greek architecture
from various periods of history; it was designed by Chicago-based Greek American
architect Demetrios Stavrianos, whose notable works include the U.S. Capitol
Visitor’s Center and the Food and Drug Administration Headquarters. In 2017
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited the museum, the first Greek head of
state to do so.
In the years following the opening of the new building,
the museum has been able to greatly expand its collection and operations. Today
it possesses over 10,000 artifacts relating to Greek and Greek American history,
displayed in several permanent and temporary exhibits. It includes the Frank S.
Kamberos Oral History Project, which preserves recordings of interviews and
memoirs from hundreds of Greek Americans and encourages others to participate
as well. The museum is home to the Gus and Mary Stathis Library and Resource
Center, which features a large non-circulating collection of books and
documents on Greek culture, history, religion, and language. The museum also operates
multiple programs including lectures, a popular series of Greek language
classes, and culture classes in topics such as music, theatre, dancing, poetry,
and art. It also hosts annual events such as a fundraising gala and a Greek
food festival known as Kouzina.