Lucas Bensley is a PhD candidate at Loyola University Chicago who has been working with the ICA Global Archives team for the past three months.
Tell us about yourself: what are you working on as an intern?
I’m a PhD candidate at Loyola University Chicago focusing on urban history, particularly Chicago in the early 20th century. I wanted to use my education over my summer break after the first year of my program to not let my skills go to waste and to gain experience with archival work, so I started looking for organizations in the city that were hosting interns. I stumbled on ICA, signed up for the position, and have been an intern here for the past three months!
Over the course of the internship, I’ve worked on a wide range of tasks, everything from bringing files up from the basement to drafting reports around questions of my own choosing. A central questions I’ve been asking is “what has been the impact of ICA on the city of Chicago?” Trying to answer this question has led me to write reports on programs such as the Uptown Five in the 70s and Standing Tall in the 80s, two of the many programs that ICA helped organize in Uptown and so many different neighborhoods throughout Chicago that illustrate ICA’s philosophy of emphasizing the human factor in community development.
The reports I’ve written will be included in the Archives collection when the website goes live. Today, which is actually my last day here, I’m writing additional pages on the organization’s history to add to those reports.
When you’re not interning, what do you do?
This summer I’ve been working as a front of house host at a restaurant, just a typical summer job to support myself and my hobbies. I’m really into this Chicago subculture of speakeasies, cabaret clubs, and other little hidden-away nuggets of the city’s history. There are so many venues that stay true to that history going back to the 1920s, where you can see music, variety acts, and performances that really embody the often forgotten parts of Chicago history.
Describe ICA using a metaphor.
ICA is analogous to an outside observer that would be brought in to consult on a group project already in the works to present how things are going now and how they could be improved. Except with ICA, it’s not just projects, but communities, and ICA asks deeper questions like “how do we act we as a community?”, or even “are we a community?”. And, if there isn’t a strong sense of community, ICA asks how can we symbolically and materially improve those bonds by working together to identify and approach issues we have in common. That in my mind is the purpose of ICA, to appreciate and integrate the many ways in which communities have approached their own development around the world, and moreover to create a unifying language to pass on those lessons to other communities.
When have you seen ICA create real change or impact?
Chicago and other cities around the world have been changing drastically both culturally and socially in the past few decades. Scholars in my field are using the term reversal of suburbanization to describe a trend in which areas historically populated by people of color with mixed income are shifting to be primarily white and affluent. As demographics change, so do the identities of communities, raising an urgent question of what these cities will look like and whose interests will they serve going forward. Who will be represented? And in this time of great change, organizations such as ICA are sorely needed to introduce a cultural dynamic into this conversation, to also ask how we envision the community that is Chicago symbolically and how is that vision going to change? Moreover, is there a way in which unifying language or symbol or some other form of identity can create a bridge between the communities that exist now and those that will exist in the future? My hope is that if communities can do that with support from organizations like ICA, that sense of cultural unity can lead to compromise and agreement around economics and politics as well.
I feel that ICA rightfully puts the cultural question first as a strategy to work around political and economic issues. We don’t make much ground approaching those directly because we haven’t created understanding in the cultural dimension, and the changing makeup of communities is a deeply cultural question.