On Thursday, Chicago’s Plan Commission is expected to approve the design for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. After that, the plan will go to the full City Council for a vote and then undergo a process of federal review.
But one potential stumbling block is a federal lawsuit filed Monday by a group called Protect Our Parks.
The group claims the developers of the center have pulled a “bait and switch,” saying the center will not be a true presidential library because it will not hold the archive of President Barack Obama.
David Simas, chief executive of The Obama Foundation who was previously a senior aide in the Obama White House, says arguments over where the physical documents in the president’s archive are stored are less relevant in the digital age.
“When the president and Mrs. Obama were thinking about what the presidential center would be it was with an eye not only to the past but to the future,” Simas said. “When you are thinking about what a new presidential center and new museum and library could be, especially in an area when you could digitize all of the records, we entered into a discussion with the National Archives about a new model. And the new model is for the digitalization of the records so that there is access to the records for people throughout the country and throughout the world.”
“In many ways this is a new template,” said Louise Bernard, who will be director of the Obama Presidential Center’s museum. “The emphasis is on access and openness. This is something that will really belong to the community.”
Originally from the United Kingdom, Bernard has lived in the United States for two decades and was part of the design team that helped develop the Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
She appears comfortable with the responsibility of creating such an important institution that will tell the story of Obama’s historic presidency in the broader context of American history.
“I would like to think it would be a daunting task for anyone,” Bernard said. “I am a student of American history and culture – I’m an academic by training – and most of that academic training has been really dedicated to understanding American history and culture. So this has been just a wonderful challenge.”
Simas and Bernard join Phil Ponce to discuss the development of the Obama Presidential Center.