Disney100, a large-scale traveling exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company, has opened at the Exhibition Hub Art Center, 2367 W. Logan Blvd., in Bucktown.
Hundreds of props and artifacts from the company's history are on display, among them personal correspondence from Walt Disney, the carousel horse ridden by Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, the model of the Nautilus submarine used for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Black Panther's uniform.
The studio launched two such exhibitions: One touring American cities and another touring cities throughout the rest of the world.
"We view this as a love letter to Disney fans," said Matthew Adams, manager of exhibitions for the Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Archives. "We want to make sure that we are including as much of the company [history] as possible for as many people as possible," Adams said, noting that since that history now spans a century, there are Disney fans spanning the generations. "That kind of influenced how the exhibition was designed and laid out."
Archives officials decided not to organize the artifacts in chronological order, except for the first room detailing Disney's struggles early in his career.
"Younger kids would have to wait for the very end to find the characters that they're very interested in," Adams said. "Instead of doing that, every gallery, except the first one, is themed to the philosophy of Walt Disney. That way you get a little bit of everything in each gallery, and you have a mix of characters."
That structure helped the archivists to narrow down the company's vast holdings, but "even then, there were things we just didn't have space for, so we could probably make ten exhibits like this and not include everything we want to," Adams added. "We wanted it to be celebratory. … We wanted people to walk away reminded of the memories and nostalgia that they have for Disney. I can't think of a company that has left such an indelible mark on so many people's lives and the culture at large."
He acknowledged that bringing Walt Disney's personality across to modern audiences, who might hear the name "Disney" and think of an entertainment conglomerate and not a person, can be a challenge.
"Younger audiences are not familiar with Walt Disney," Adams explained." It's kind of just Betty Crocker or Colonel Sanders; it's just a name, and I think that a lot of younger people don't know that he was a real person. That's kind of the mission of the Walt Disney Archives, and this exhibition in general. It's so younger people go away knowing who Walt Disney was and why he was importantand why these wonderful stories and characters who we know and love really wouldn't be around if it wasn't for him."
Adams has been with the archives for two years, and comes from a theater background. "It may seem weird, but [the exhibition] is theater. You have all the elements of theatrical production. It was such a natural fitbut never in a million years would I have imagined that this is what I would be doing."
He said that he feels comfortable and supported there as a gay man, noting that the company has a resource group for LGBTQ+ employees and that, "There is a Disney Pride [group]. It's very active and has a ton of members. We feel very seen and supported by the upper-echelons of the company."
One reason Adams is pleased that the exhibit finally opened in Chicago is a significant historical connection between Walt Disney and the Windy City: Disney was born in Chicago. Alas the family moved away when he was very young; he mainly grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.
"Walt didn't spend a lot of time here, though he did come back for a while when he was a teenager," Adams said. "But just the fact that his house is still here, and is preserved, is pretty exciting."
See disney100exhibit.com/chicago/ .