Action Over Apathy: The Story Behind The Chicago Future Museum

What role can creativity play in creating real change in our world? Chicago Ideas Partner Leo Burnett—a creative solutions company—took on this very challenge when they conceived The Chicago Future Museum. It can be tempting to let the challenges of today overwhelm and paralyze us from exploring the solutions of tomorrow. This limited activation on October 10-12 served as a kick off to Chicago Ideas Week and used optimism in place of fear to help us imagine what the Chicago of tomorrow could look like if each of us commit to putting in the work today. We sat down with the Leo Burnett team to understand the full story of how The Future Museum came to be and to explore the role creativity can play in empowering communities to be the change they wish to see in the world today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Tell us the story behind The Future Museum: How did your team turn this big idea into action?

Chicago Ideas Week has always been about bringing people together to solve problems as a community—a purpose that resonates with Leo Burnett as a creative solutions company. This year, we created a campaign dedicated to choosing action over apathy, but we wanted to approach it differently. Instead of using the fear of what could happen if no one acts, we wanted to use optimism for what’s possible if people do act. The Chicago Future Museum was our way to give visitors a positive way of looking at the future of Chicago, if people are willing to put in the work it takes.

When it came to actually building the museum, there was no shortage of challenges. Luckily, we were a group of motivated people and partners with a shared goal. We wanted to create something that seemed impossible, and the only way to do it was to come together and make it happen. In an amazing twist, the experience of making the museum was exactly the point of the museum itself.

What role do you think creativity plays in finding solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges?

Creativity is essential to problem-solving on every level because every problem has unique parameters and potential. Solutions can come from anyone and anywhere. That’s why it’s so beneficial to have a group of diverse people bringing their unique skills, talents and POVs to the table to work toward solutions to these challenges.

How did you narrow down the solutions-based stories on display at The Future Museum?

We started with local publications like the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune to amass a list of headlines that spoke directly to some of the more well-known problems the city is currently facing. Then we imagined the opposite becoming a reality. We used the most compelling themes to arrive at our shortlist of artifacts to include in the museum exhibition. We purposely wanted to represent a wide range of themes because our world is defined by more than one issue, and different topics resonate with different people.

What was the response? Was the outcome what you imagined?

Every visitor to the museum had opinions about what they experienced—most positive, some skeptical, but all affected by what they saw. It was heartening to hear some high school students tell us they thought the “realities” presented in the exhibits seemed more possible now that they’d seen them at the museum. Sometimes being able to see the desired outcome is all it takes to inspire people to work toward accomplishing it.

What do you hope was the biggest takeaway from The Future Museum? 

We wanted people to walk away with the idea that anything is possible, even if sounds absurd right now. Those who are engaged and passionate about change will be the ones who make all the difference. We hope people are motivated by the museum moving forward, not just in the moment, and that it inspires them to roll up their sleeves and help create solutions for Chicago.

Vanessa M. Buenger is the director of marketing & content at Chicago Ideas. She is passionate about storytelling and the power it has to change the world.

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