OUT In Chicago - Award-winning media drives a groundbreaking exhibit

Client: Chicago History Museum
Awards: Winner MUSE and AAM Excellence In Exhibitions
Category:  Museum, Interactive, Video

The Chicago History Museum wanted to celebrate the contributions of the city’s LGBT community and to enable the audience to form personal connections with its members. They selected Trillium Productions to spearhead the media creation effort. We crafted 55 minutes of video for this landmark exhibit. The videos are noteworthy in their individual power, honesty, and diversity; taken together, they form the heart of this amazing exhibition, one of the first of its kind in a mainstream museum.

While Out’s target audience included LGBT people, it spoke to all visitors regardless of sexual orientation and contained ample opportunities to forge personal connections with the subject matter. Establishing emotional connections was vital to the exhibition’s success and videos were key.

Tamara Biggs
Director of Exhibitions
Chicago History Museum

“Trillium was my first choice to make films for OUT in Chicago based on our experience working with them on Catholic Chicago, an exhibition in 2008. They have incredible ability to conduct meaningful interviews and weave disparate bits into salient and moving final products. They themselves became very committed to bringing out the best stories for an underrepresented and misunderstood community. Their work is true and honors the source.”  

It's Complicated

A series of three short portraits that illustrate that LGBT people in Chicago are far from homogenous. A male-to-female transsexual, a leather man, and a Latina butch/femme couple tell their stories on three large vertical flat screens. Installed on a platform beside the video are the costumes they were wearing when they were filmed. The message is that we each grow our own identity, and that what we wear reveals a range of ways to be.

From the start, visitors meet real people. The installations include:

  • five video greeters;
  • “It’s Complicated” with three stories of very different identities;
  • “Are You Family?” with twelve testimonials of home and family;
  • “Boogie Nights” about nightlife;
  • and lastly, a touchscreen with six stories of activist movements.

The team invited extraordinary, ordinary people from a wide range of neighborhoods, races, classes, and ages. Every single person we approached agreed to tell his and her story not only for the exhibition’s visitors, but for posterity.

The humanity of the videos makes them the most important part of the exhibition. They are real and now. They connect the historical with the contemporary. They are honest, sincere, and filled with things visitors want to know. Little or no scripting was done. Some of the people in these films had been waiting for years, even decades, to tell their stories.

 This unsolicited comment from a historian who visited is a testament to the power of the videos:

“I am amazed by the originality — having the real people videos greeting you as you come in; the variation between film and object — the placing of the two-minute videos in a “television” with a comfortable couch — when I was there I sat mesmerized through the whole loop with a bunch of guys who were equally mesmerized, and on and on — one brilliant juxtaposition after another.”

We didn’t just shoot for the short videos in the exhibition.

We also captured over 30 ninety-minute interviews, totaling almost three terabytes, which will become part of the permanent collection of the museum, in the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. This collection of personal stories will help bolster what we know about the history of Chicago’s LGBT communities. The LGBT historical record has been lacking in part because many people, including great figures like Jane Addams, destroyed their own or family members’ correspondence or photographs in fear of discrimination and homophobia.

OUT in Chicago Exhibit

OUT in Chicago Exhibit 3
OUT in Chicago Exhibit 2
OUT in Chicago Exhibit 4

“Visitors were clustered around the TV – sitting on the couch and on the floor watching every video. To watch people sit for 22 minutes in rapt attention, that’s something you don’t see in museum exhibits.” —Nancy Goodman, Exhibit Developer