Arts in Action began in June 2020 with discussions between two local history organizations – the Ellwood House Museum and the DeKalb County History Center. After listening to conversations about racism in DeKalb County, staff dug into their archives with unsettling results. They found restrictive covenants governing neighborhoods and cemeteries – separating races not only during life, but also in death. Newspapers from the 1920s revealed Ku Klux Klan rallies of over 12,000 people; later articles described decrepit migrant housing infested with insects and rats. The archives also contained inspiring accounts of hope and perseverance. Both organizations reflected thoughtfully about how to share the contrasting stories and to initiate action. Both recognized that they had often portrayed history solely from a white perspective. The two institutions developed the project Arts in Action to convey history meaningfully, support artists, and invite analytical discussion. They convened a committee of key stakeholders to ensure that the project combining artist commissions and local history in an online exhibition would incorporate diverse views.
An on-line exhibit was launched on March 31, 2022, as part of a Healing Illinois grant. It was clear that more work needed to be done and more stories needed to be shared. Additional funding from Illinois Humanities, DeKalb County Community Foundation, DeKalb County Mental Health Board, and the Juday Family was secured, and the project was expanded. While the original on-line exhibit is available at the “Start Here” section, over the past year additional research was conducted, people were interviewed, and historical societies throughout the county looked through their collections to increase the narrative to beyond just Sycamore and DeKalb.
This website is updated updated as additional information is collected. Please note that some of the stories and personal recollections can act as triggers. For anyone who needs help with processing the information, there are mental resources available under the "About Us“ section at the bottom of the page.
Studying history means thinking critically about the world and our place in it. It involves evaluating many perspectives and figuring out the how past events affect our lives today. In doing so, we build critical thinking skills that apply to all aspects of our lives – and we develop a deeper understanding of our society and how it came to be. And we learn from the past with hopes of a brighter future.