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Chicago public library at Obama Center gets $5M boost from MacArthur Foundation

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The grant is positive news for the controversial South Side project

Image courtesy of Obama Center

The MacArthur Foundation has pledged $5 million towards creating a new Chicago Public Library branch at the upcoming Obama Presidential Center slated for Jackson Park, the nonprofit group announced Monday.

“Embedding a public library branch in the Obama Presidential Center will connect Chicago residents and visitors, especially youth, to each other and to a world of imagination and information,” said MacArthur president Julia Stasch in a statement.

The 5,000-square-foot facility will include dedicated areas for children and teens as well as a multimedia lab and flexible space that can be used for reading, studying, or hosting community programs and other events. It is one of several publicly accessible amenities such as walking trails, gardens, and athletic fields that will make the South Side complex more like a community center than a typical Presidential Library.

In fact, the CPL branch will be the only actual library included in the $500 million Obama Center plan, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. In place of traditional physical archives, the former president’s documents will only be available in electronic form.

The MacArthur Foundation grant is a rare bit of good news for the Obama Presidential Center which faces a lengthy federal review, debates over its lack of a formal community benefits agreement, and an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the transfer of 20 acres of historic public parkland to a private entity such as the Obama Foundation.

The city approved the controversial project in 2018 and the Obama Foundation said it hoped to break ground later that year and open in 2021. With construction still yet to begin, it’s unclear when local residents can expect to enjoy the new library.