Exhibition Designer Named for Obama Center Museum

New York–based firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates will be the exhibition designer.


Obama Foundation Chair Martin Nesbitt discussed plans for the center at a press conference on August 4, 2016 in front of the Jackson Park Lagoon.

By Yao Xen Tan, Contributor

The Obama Foundation announced on Tuesday that New York–based firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) will design the museum of the Obama Presidential Center.

RAA, which is widely considered the world’s largest museum exhibition design firm, will be leading a team of firms and individuals with media, lighting, and acoustics expertise.

The firm has completed 700 commissions in more than 50 countries, according to its website, and is best known for its exhibition designs in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture.

RAA’s exhibition designs are known for being dramatic. The design for the national African American museum incorporates styles of monumentality and minutiae. Massive artifacts—a prison watch tower, a slave cabin—are showcased in a cathedral-like subterranean gallery.

As part of the Obama Presidential Center, the presidential library and museum will feature galleries, public presentations, and archives telling the story of Barack Obama’s presidency and legacy.

Other members of the museum’s exhibition design team are Chicago-based firms Civic Projects and Normal and artists and educators Amanda Williams, Andres Hernandez, and Norman Teague.

Civic Projects recently worked on the Englewood Exchange, a facility that offers an incubator space and a demonstration kitchen classroom for home-based businesses to buy and sell commercially in Englewood. Civic Projects specializes in bringing community participation to the design process. Normal has designed for a number of local institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Theaster Gates Studio.

Williams, who grew up on the South Side, is a visual artist and architect. Hernandez is an artist and educator who has done work with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Teague is a designer and educator who specializes in examining the history of communities.

According to a public statement from David Simas, chief executive of the Obama Foundation, the selections were based on the firms' and individuals' track records on civic projects. “We are confident this team will contribute to our building a presidential center that is more than just a library or museum, but that will be an innovative center that inspires communities and individuals to take on our biggest challenges,” Simas said.

The foundation also stated that almost half of the exhibition design work for the museum will be performed by certified minority- and women-owned businesses.