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How Museums Foster Cultural Understanding in Cities

Parts of the Los Angeles community: LACMA, The Broad, and The Getty. Photos from left: Flickr users Susan Broman, Melissa Delzio, and Photos by Clark, CC BY-NC 2.0 - See more at:

Parts of the Los Angeles community: LACMA, The Broad, and The Getty. Photos from left: Flickr users Susan Broman, Melissa Delzio, and Photos by Clark, CC BY-NC 2.0 

Museums make better cities, and more tolerant citizens 

Why have New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles remained such vital centers of trade and finance over the years, constantly reinventing themselves to meet the ever-changing needs of the world’s economy? In great part because they have always welcomed immigrants hungry for work and cultural freedom and, in the process, not always easily but ultimately successfully, have built a dynamic, multilingual, and cosmopolitan community open to all that the world has to offer. My wife and I lived in Chicago for seven years, from 2004 to 2011. We came to know it well and to feel a part of it quickly, easily. In its first century, it was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, doubling every decade through most of the 19th century. By 1890, the city that had had only 30,000 residents at mid-century was the fifth largest city in the world, with large numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Mexico. Today its population is almost three million, with large numbers of immigrants from Bosnia, India, Nigeria, and Southeast Asia. Almost 30 percent of its population speaks a language other than English at home.  For the six-county area that comprises Greater Chicago, the five most common languages after English are Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Chinese, and Tagalog. What helps Chicago attract and integrate its ever more diverse population? Among other things, I would argue its cultural institutions.

James Cuno.

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This post originally appeared on Global Insight, the blog of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. James Cuno speaks at the 2016 Chicago Forum on Global Cities, held June 1–3, 2016.

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