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In the block surrounding the former Emerson Street YMCA, which opened in 1909 and closed in 1969, a public art exhibit will soon be installed to commemorate the legacy of the African-American institution.
The McGaw Y, currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, partnered with Shorefront Legacy Center on the project. Shorefront’s mission is to collect, preserve and educate the public about African-American history on the North Shore.
Dino Robinson, founder of Shorefront, says the exhibit will feature seven aluminum street signs with archival photographs of people and events from the 60 years the Emerson Street Y was open. “Ninety percent of the images came from Shorefront’s collection,” Mr. Robinson said. Five of the photos will be of the Y; the other two will be of the Butler Livery next door, a cab service owned by Henry Butler, he said. Mr. Butler was one of the first African-American entrepreneurs in Evanston.
“The signs will be up in about three months,” Mr. Robinson said. “We are just waiting for bids from sign manufacturers.”
The street signs with the archival photos will be affixed to light poles on Emerson Street, Maple Avenue, University Place and Oak Avenue. “The [photographs] will be silk-screened onto aluminum signs, or something similar to that,” Mr. Robinson said. Mr. Robinson will oversee the artistic side of the project; the City will be responsible for mounting the public art exhibit, which will be on display for about three years.
The signs will attempt to capture the history of the Emerson Street Y, Mr. Robinson says. An accompanying brochure will provide details on the photographs, though Mr. Robinson says the availability and distribution of the brochures have not yet been decided. “The signs will be auctioned off at the end of the exhibit,” Mr. Robinson added.
With Shorefront Journal and the Legacy Center, Mr. Robinson is passing on his knowledge and passion for archiving the past. He describes the Legacy Center, located in the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus Building, as a place where middle school kids can go to learn and sharpen their interviewing and photographic archiving skills.
The Legacy Center is presently showing a photo exhibit called “Portraits of a Community,” consisting of pictures documenting the present. Mr. Robinson says teaching kids to archive the present as well as the past is the key to keeping history alive and documented.
With the signs, the McGaw Y and Shorefront hope to continue educating the public on the history of Evanston.