With its interactive storytelling, historic artifacts and user-friendliness, the new Richmond Family Welcome Gallery is a tribute to the University’s life and times
By Mary Timmins
Sweeping and intimate, long-ago and close-at-hand, institutional and personal, anecdotal and archival: the tales are here by the hundreds in the Richmond Family Welcome Gallery. The Gallery’s narrative—aggregated into faces and voices, writing and photography, objects and memories—documents how the University came into being, aspired to excellence and grew into greatness. The concept began modestly enough in 2013 when a team from the University of Illinois Alumni Alliance began researching a timeline to mark major events along the U of I’s century-and-a-half history. Over a five-year period of ideation, research and design, that timeline evolved into a $4.5 million campus welcome center supported entirely by private funding and thought to be the finest of its kind in the nation. Housed on the first floor of Alice Campbell Alumni Center, the Gallery overlooks the picturesque Hallene Gateway and fountain, creating a distinctive entry point into the campus. From October 2018 to January 2019, the Gallery welcomed more than 13,000 visitors, including alumni, members of the University and local communities, and campus tour groups of students and their parents. What awaits visitors is an inspiring, absorbing and information-rich environment that celebrates the U of I and its alumni in ways both familiar and fresh.
Clustered throughout the Gallery, interactive Discovery Boxes invite visitors to explore themes that range from “Who Are the Illini?” and “Student Life” to “Music in the Air” and “In War and Peace.” These rotating exhibits include text, artifacts, photos, audio and video material managed by Gallery staff through a proprietary online system. (Image by Jeff Dahlgren)
Made of hundreds of replica diplomas, a 55-foot kinetic mobile seems to soar and hover like a flock of winged creatures in the lobby’s three-story atrium. Alumni were invited to lend their actual diplomas to be scanned for this unique installation. Suspended with steel cables and painstakingly balanced, the facsimile sheepskins bear such distinguished names as Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman, ’65 BUS; Google executive Parisa Tabriz, ’05 ENG, MS ’07 ENG; geneticist and Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp, PHD ’69 LAS, HON ’14; and journalist Will Leitch, ’98 MEDIA. (Image by Jeff Dahlgren)
Top: At the entrance to the Gallery on the Center’s north side, a display of memorabilia teases the collective campus memory. Seen here (left to right): a neon “D” from the marquee of the old Co-Ed Theater in Campustown; a blue Japan House kimono; a vintage sign from the student-run radio station WBML bearing the motto “Where Soul Music Lives”; and a finial removed from the Women’s Residence Hall (known today as Busey-Evans Hall). The objects are part of a larger collection drawn from across campus and curated by the UIAA, which plans to regularly rotate the items on display. Bottom Left: “Town and Gown,” a photography collection, celebrates the parks, libraries, museums, events and other features of the University’s enveloping communities of Champaign and Urbana. Right: “Hangouts and Watering Holes” highlights popular bars, restaurants, coffee shops and other student enclaves from throughout the decades, including Zorba’s, Mabel’s and Treno’s. (Images by Jeff Dahlgren)
A huge, interactive Trailhead Map presents a detailed 3-D grid of campus buildings and streets. Visitors are encouraged to survey the grid, then use the touchscreen to chart a path to their destination. The display maps history as well, in a timeline that visits the ancient antecedents of the Urbana-Champaign region and traces the history of the University from its inception to the present day. (Image by Jeff Dahlgren)
TOP LEFT: Top: The Gougler Library’s new projection system hosts screenings of Lighting a Fire. The 14-minute original film captures the transformational experience of attending Illinois. BOTTOM LEFT: The pleasant hearth of the ACAC’s Hindsley Great Room adjoins the Gallery. RIGHT: “Yesterday and Today,” a lenticular mural, mimics time travel in its ingenious design. Seen from one end, the piece is a black-and-white vintage photo of a long-ago band concert on the Quad. Walk past, and the pleated design reverses into a color image of UI millennials relaxing in the same space on a sunny day. (Images by Jeff Dahlgren)