CHM Workers Highlight: Rebekah Coffman

Rebekah Coffman Square Headshot 2022

Rebekah Coffman joined the Chicago Historical past Museum in Could 2022 as the brand new Curator of Faith and Group Historical past. On this weblog publish, she talks about her path to CHM and the way she approaches her work.

In my first few months at CHM, I’ve been in a position to leap into my place with each toes whereas supporting analysis throughout quite a lot of present initiatives exploring the wealthy and layered histories of Chicago. Extra importantly, I’ve been questioning what it means to even be a curator of faith and neighborhood. These two subjects can really feel so broad it may be arduous to outline them. Some days, it’s a boundless alternative. Others, it’s a grueling problem. Group is messy, and our very human experiences of how we come collectively have layers of complexity and challenges.

Visiting Collection Storage
Rebekah dealing with archival materials in storage. All pictures courtesy of Rebekah Coffman.

My path to CHM has been a bit winding, with my skilled experiences crossing boundaries between museum, training, and neighborhood areas. Having religion leaders for fogeys, my childhood was embedded with questions of how on a regular basis life encounters sacredness. As I entered early maturity, I discovered myself dissecting the intersections of illustration and non secular id in my undergraduate research. I spotted how a lot of our day by day lives had been saturated—materially and visually—in religious heritages and the way these references may very well be distorted to create division or centered to search out widespread floor and mutual understanding. As a part of an interfaith non secular students program, I learn Eboo Patel’s Acts of Religion: The Story of an American Muslim, the Battle for the Soul of a Era and located resonance in conversations of peaceable plurality. I used this as gas to forge a path to finding out a twin diploma in artwork historical past and faith. After years working in and across the heritage sector and non secular areas, I later pursued a graduate diploma in architectural historical past, specializing in locations of worship which were traditionally used and reused by communities of various faiths and cultural backgrounds.

Adalberto Metodista
Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago’s West City neighborhood space is an instance of a storefront church.

I’ve realized the widespread thread of a lot of this work has been themes of neighborhood and belonging:

  • What does it imply to create, domesticate, and protect a shared sense of historical past and id?
  • How can we take one thing as private and inner as perception and make it exterior and showing in bodily house?
  • How can we create a secure house to discover these themes?
  • How can we uplift the experiences of those that have been silenced or forcibly forgotten in these narratives?

For me, these questions will not be one thing that may be answered alone. They rely on the work of a neighborhood. The phrase “neighborhood” implies having one thing in widespread—be that geographic traces, traditions, pursuits, cultural backgrounds, racial or ethnic identities, non secular practices, or shared targets. This could really feel like one thing that’s concurrently inclusive and unique, one thing that’s bounded by commonality whereas creating a way of an “different.”

Mary Mural in Back of the Yards
A mural in Chicago’s Again of the Yards neighborhood depicting the Virgin Mary, town skyline, and two small vendor tents, certainly one of which is promoting tacos.

Locations of worship have been a typical approach neighborhood is shaped, making non secular id vital to shaping our historic panorama. Identification is demarcated in house by way of coming collectively. This not solely takes form by way of constructed kind however find widespread objective, making neighborhood greater than a boundary but additionally an motion—to be in neighborhood. A refined shift in language makes it one thing whenever you really feel, see, and expertise its presence or absence.

KAMII Synagogue
Positioned in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, Kehilath Anshe Ma’arav (KAM) Isaiah Israel was based in 1847 and is the oldest synagogue in Illinois.

To place this into follow, I proceed to border my work immediately by way of concepts of shared house and sense of place. As with many establishments that face legacies of being traditionally exclusionary, how can we confront tensions brazenly and actually to create communal belonging? It takes actions. As Patel writes in Acts of Religion, “Actions recreate the world. A motion is a rising group of people that imagine so deeply in a brand new chance that they take part in making it a actuality.” It’s my hope that, by way of this work collectively, we are able to create a brand new actuality of fairness, equality, justice, and reality coming collectively for sharing Chicago tales by way of the remnants and rhythms of its non secular previous and current.


Rebekah Coffman Square Headshot 2022Wish to know extra? Rebekah might be answering questions on Instagram throughout Ask a Museum on Wednesday, September 14, 2022!

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