An Interview with Elizabeth Martin of the National Hellenic Museum

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It is such a great honor to interview Mrs. Elizabeth Martin, Executive Director of the National Hellenic Museum.  “The National Hellenic Museum is America’s only national institution that interprets the American experience through the history of Greek immigrants, and the contributions of Greek Americans to the American mosaic, while celebrating their rich Greek history and culture and the profound impact of their Hellenic heritage upon the world.”

“Located in a new 40,000-square-foot space that is both contemporary and timeless, the Museum connects all generations—past, present and future—to the rich heritage of Greek history, culture, art and the Greek American experience. Since 1983, the National Hellenic Museum, previously known as the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center, has been striving towards this mission.”

Currently the museum offers fascinating and meaningful exhibits spanning from the Greek Monsters of mythology, the history of the Akropolis, the legacy of Greek Immigration, to the story of Greek Independence (among many others).

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Two of my favorite things about this museum (among others) is the vast and varied amount of educational programs they offer, and how thoughtfully child and family friendly they are.  From dancing, literature, language, art, and government, to iconography and archaeology the museum provides many opportunities to interactively learn throughout the year.

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I am so very honored and grateful Mrs. Martin took the time to do this interview and am extremely thankful for all the work she is doing! I look forward to the many years ahead of visiting and exploring this wonderful museum. To learn more about the National Hellenic Museum visit their website www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org or facebook page.

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Museum name: National Hellenic Museum

Location: 333 S. Halsted St., Chicago IL  60661 in Greektown!

My name: Elizabeth Martin

My job at the museum: Executive Director

What do you enjoy most about your job? I truly love everything about this job. The mission to preserve and share Hellenic ideas and heritage is so profound. Although I am not Greek, so much of my formal education was grounded in things that came from the Greeks. Although it is not my job to plan the exhibits and programs, I love learning about them as we plan them. On top of that the Board of Trustees and the staff are so passionately committed to the longevity of the Museum that it is truly inspirational.

What do you love about the museum? I think it is the architecture. It is modern and clean, so airy and open. It is so calming.

How and why did the museum begin? The Museum was actually founded 33 years ago and was housed in at least three other locations before this building was commissioned. It was started to preserve, collect and share the story of both the Greek American as well as the culture as a whole.

What does a typical day at the museum look like? We often start with schools visiting the exhibits and participating in our education programs. Throughout the day you see guests coming through and at night you might be able to join a Greek Dance class for adults!

What does one experience when visiting? We have three floors of exhibit space. The first floor exhibits are usually larger than life and housed in the beautiful John C. Calamos Sr. Hall. You then ascend the grand staircase to the second floor which can be comprised of several interesting and relevant exhibits. Right now we have an exhibit on Street Art from Athens, a children’s exhibit about architecture and an exhibit about the Acropolis. Another grand staircase takes you to the third floor where we display the Greek American Story. The story of the immigrants, their struggles and their successes! We also have an Oral History Center where we capture and play these stories.

How do you choose the exhibits? There is an exhibit team of professionals who have their finger on the pulse of what is current, relevant and important to share.

Does the museum offer family friendly/school/children’s activities? Oh yes, in addition to our Greek Language and Culture Classes we offer children’s exhibits, programs, a sleepover, summer camps, storytimes and much, much more.

If I could tell aspiring young museum curators one (or several) thing(s) it would be: Follow your dreams. Volunteer or get an internship. And come see us!

As a child, my favorite children’s book was or My favorite children’s book is: Harold and the Purple Crayon

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