Celebrating Illinois Influencers



By Judy Carmack Bross




What will you do with your extra day in 2024?


A Leap Year February 29 celebration should leave guests saying “unforgettable.” Landmarks Illinois will meet the challenge with flair at the party and after party–but magic only every four years couldn’t be further from reality. Daily, Illinois’ most enduring preservation advocates demonstrate their commitment and Preservation Forward, the year’s annual spring fundraiser, captures the magic of their galas for over 50 years when historic buildings, architects and preservationists have been saluted.


Preservation Forward is Landmarks Illinois’ biggest event of the year and its main fundraiser, responsible for raising nearly half of the annual budget for the organization’s mission-driven work. The event attracts like-minded professionals, including architects, developers, activists, artists, tradespeople and those engaged in community development, who gather for a shared mission: to support and uplift Landmarks Illinois’ efforts to help people save places across the state.


Guests arrive at 2023 Preservation Forward at The Old Post Office in Chicago. Credit: David T. Kindler

Guests gathering February 29 in the Old Post Office’s fully restored historic lobby and grand hall featuring original fixtures from the 123-year-old once threatened building saved with the help of Landmarks Illinois’ sustained advocacy, will meet some of today’s leading preservationists, each rightly named a “2024 Influencer.”


Bonnie McDonald


Bonnie McDonald, President and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, told us recently:

“Every year, Landmarks Illinois looks to honor people throughout Chicago and the state who are creating a positive and lasting impact on preservation and who are progressing the field forward. Our 2024 Influencers are a unique and diverse group of natural leaders who are passionate about saving places for the benefit of all. Through their work, they are engaging new audiences, bringing new life to historic places, training the next generation of preservation professionals and providing resources to underserved communities. We are excited to give our Preservation Forward guests the opportunity to learn more about their extraordinary efforts.”



Lisa Yun Lee, Executive Director, National Public Housing Museum. Credit Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago. Courtesy of Lisa Yun Lee.


We spoke with Lisa Yun Lee who carries forward the mission of one of Chicago’s most respected revolutionaries, Jane Addams, who in 1931 became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, while she herself brings new audiences and meets tough challenges for today’s preservationists.


Lee serves as Executive Director of the National Public Housing Museum to open this summer in the only remaining building of the historic Jane Addams Homes on the Near West Side. The three-story brick building on West Taylor Street first opened in 1938 as the first federal government housing project in Chicago. It housed hundreds of families over six decades and has been vacant since 2002. The Jane Addams Homes was one of the three demonstration projects in Chicago built under the Public Works Administration Act, which was created to provide jobs and help revive the Depression-era economy. Designed by a team of architects led by John Holabird, the Jane Addams Homes not only provided housing, but also offered childcare, employment counseling, and other pioneering social services.


 Previously Director of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, Lee is also an Associate Professor in Art History and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


“It is very meaningful for me to be recognized by Landmarks Illinois, an organization that has done truly radical work in transforming the field of preservation to be more diverse and accessible,” Lee said. “As a woman, and a person of color, preservation has been historically challenging for me.”


Lisa Yun Lee at the groundbreaking of the National Public Housing Museum.


We asked Lee, who is writing a book about Addams, what Addams might think if she were present for the opening of the new Public Housing Museum, the first of its kind in the country.


“I think she would be so excited that we are down the street from her beloved Hull-House Settlement that is now also an extraordinary social justice site. She would also be thrilled that we are imagining this museum to be an innovative site of conscience and cultural center. Addams believed that we had to reach across boundaries and work with one another, blurring the lines between arts, culture, public policy, and action. They were reading poetry, dancing, telling jokes and creating joyful community with one another, and they were also working on fair labor laws, women’s suffrage, immigrant’s rights and peace. The National Public Housing Museum will be a community anchor on the near west side for public housing residents, but also a place for residents across the nation, for preservation scholars, urban planners, housing advocates–a capacious community.”


“Never again will a single story be told as if it is the only one. Public housing and the residents will never be reduced to one single stereotype as a single mainstream story. It is a time to really listen and learn from the stories of public housing residents. In the museum field, too often it is difficult to find information about people of color, people living in poverty and about people who might have worked there.”


Lee told us that the new museum puts much emphasis on the power of place and memory, with former residents sharing oral histories and a Beauty Turner Oral History Training Program that deploys oral history as a tool to advance justice. Currently the Museum has 150 of these personal stories.


The Chicago Public Housing Museum


“The Chicago public housing movement was so central to public housing across the country. We tell our stories in particular, but they are universal as well. In our large gallery we will offer rotating exhibitions beginning with Chicago, New York and Houston. Next year, we hope to feature stories from St. Louis, Los Angeles, and the Osage Nation. We will be a place for social reflection, public dialogue and education.”


Included in the new museum will be a kitchen for a kosher family in 1938 as well as two other restored apartments. “It is not always a joyful story, often it is about dreams deferred.”

Lee and the other 2024 Influencers will visit with guests at Preservation Forward February 29. Last year over 700 guests attended and more than $730,000 was raised for Landmarks Illinois mission-driven work. The event features a cocktail hour, a main program honoring the 2023 Landmarks Illinois Influencers, signature dishes from multiple food stations, networking and an after-party, with raffle prizes include unique tours and one-of-a-kind experiences.

Urban historian, storyteller and TikTok phenom, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, also a 2024 Influencer, will take the raffle winner and up to 46 others on a guided neighborhood tour with Chicago Mahogany Tours, showcasing our city’s diverse richness while revealing hidden stories and exploring underrepresented neighborhoods. Quinn Adamowski, Regional Advocacy Manager at Landmarks Illinois, will take 12 people to the Old Joliet Prison. Often recognized for its appearance in films like The Blues Brothers, it has become a focal point for advocacy and awareness in discussions surrounding criminal justice and prison reform.

Another landmark venue? A lucky raffle winner will host a party for 50 at The Crown on the iconic Tribune Tower 25th floor.


2023 Landmarks Illinois Influencer Amanda Williams (right) with 2023 Preservation Forward guests, including 2021 Influencer Ciere Boatright, who now serves as the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. Credit: David T. Kindler

Tickets for 2024 Preservation Forward can be purchased at Landmarks Illinois’ website at Landmarks.org/events/preservation-forward.