Chicago Launches Massive 'Once Upon Our Time Capsule' Public Art Project

20,000+ kids to make time capsules to reflect, move on from past year.

By: May. 13, 2021

Chicago Launches Massive 'Once Upon Our Time Capsule' Public Art Project

The past year has been full of change, stress and sometimes unexpected joys. Yet there have been few opportunities to hear directly from children what this challenging year has meant to them.
Not anymore.

Chicago's kids need a chance to reflect on what the past year has meant for them. So today, a coalition of leading Chicago organizations have teamed up to debut Once Upon Our Time Capsule, an all-new, citywide, internationally unique participatory art and storytelling project that will empower children to share their stories of resilience. By doing so, they'll realize how heroic they've been while being confronted with a pandemic, social unrest, the shift to remote learning, and all of the changes over the past year.

Today,, the online destination to learn how to participate in this massive citywide public art project, was launched by the project's lead partners: The Center for Childhood Resilience at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Chicago Public Library and My CHI. My Future.

Starting now and through the summer, Once Upon Our Time Capsule will engage as many as 20,000 children grades K-8 from across all 77 Chicago neighborhoods. These kids will capture their thoughts and experiences from 2020-21 through a range of mediums, including writing, drawing and video.

This fall, their submissions will be aggregated into as many as 20 giant Time Capsules to create a public art installation touching all corners of the city. Collectively, these Time Capsules will tell the story of life in Chicago during the pandemic through its children's eyes. They will be sealed at public celebrations and then kept for the next five years at iconic locations, such as Adler Planetarium, Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Children's Theatre, Chicago History Museum and DuSable Museum of African American History.

In 2026, the Time Capsules will be unsealed for a new generation of elementary-school age children and families to discover.

The full list of community network partners (at press time) includes 826Chi, Adler Planetarium, After School Matters, Carole Robertson Center for Learning, Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago History Museum, Chicago Housing Authority, Children's Museum of Art and Social Justice/KIPP Charter Network, DuSable Museum of African American History, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, Hearts to Art, Heartland Human Care Services, Hyde Park Art Center, Ingenuity Chicago, JCC Chicago Apachi Day Camp, Metropolitan Family Services, UChicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

For the latest Once Upon Our Time Capsule updates and to see creative submissions as they come in, follow @onceuponourtimecapsule on Instagram, @ourcapsule on Twitter.
If you are interested in partnering with Once Upon Our Time Capsule, email to get involved. i??

Stacey Gillett and Stephanie Hodges, two professionals with backgrounds in urban innovation and community development who live in the city with their families, dreamt up Once Upon Our Time Capsule in the midst of the pandemic. On a volunteer basis, they committed themselves to bring their idea to life, and to make Chicago arguably the first city in the U.S. to give all of its children a public platform to work through and share their thoughts and reflections about the past year.

Gillett and Hodges were introduced to Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children's Theatre, who saw great promise in the idea. With Russell on board, a much larger partnership was born with organizations across the city.

"We have heard so many stories of adults overcoming adversity during this tumultuous time, but this past year has made heroes of all of our children, too," said Gillett. "We think kids need the opportunity to reflect individually, and with peers, on how they're doing after the past 14 months. This is an idea that has resonated across the city. It's been incredibly inspiring to see how every organization we've approached has so enthusiastically wanted to partner."

"Chicago is known internationally for innovation, culture, the arts, and yes, its 'big shoulders,' added Hodges. "Today, children are getting permission to climb and ride way up high on those big shoulders, where they can better see themselves, and for the rest of the world to see them. We hope the entire city will get behind this project, to make Once Upon Our Time Capsule a national model and show the world how Chicago came together and used the arts and creative storytelling to help its children unpack, heal and move forward from the past year."

To fuel citywide participation, Once Upon Our Time Capsule organizers are bringing the project to life in a number of creative ways:

Starting today, families can visit to make and submit a digital Time Capsule. The website provides a fun, easy, five-step process with videos for kids and families to make and submit Time Capsules. The tips include recommended materials and creative methods to make low-cost, highly-meaningful Time Capsule stories and containers.

Make a Time capsule at summer camp and other youth summer programming:
Organizations across the city will be integrating the Time Capsule activity into their summer programming. Other organizations that want to participate can visit or email to learn how to get started. i??

Throughout the summer, there will be many opportunities to make a Time Capsule at street fairs, arts festivals, and other celebrations. Check out and social media for the event schedule. i??

Pick up fun, easy Time Capsule kits at citywide pick-up and drop-off locations:
Starting June 1, free Time Capsule kits with simple "how to" directions will be available for pick-up at select Chicago Public Library and other partner locations across the city. These pick-up locations will also double as drop-off spots for kids and families to return their completed Time Capsules in specially marked drop-off containers.

"It has been such a joy to work with Stacey Gillett and Stephanie Hodges to realize this big, creative idea for the children of Chicago. It's truly wonderful to see how the Chicago arts and youth services communities have stepped up, embraced and engaged in this amazing project," said Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children's Theatre.

"We're thrilled to team up with Once Upon Our Time Capsule to share how art and storytelling can help children reflect, respond to and move forward from what was for many families a particularly challenging year," said First Lady of Chicago Amy Eshleman, who last year, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, launched My CHI. My Future, a youth-focused initiative designed to connect youth with meaningful out-of-school experiences. "Creating a Time Capsule is such an ideal way for kids to mark this past year, regain their balance and continue to grow as stronger, resilient young residents of this great city."

"Center for Childhood Resilience is thrilled to partner with Chicago Children's Theatre on Once Upon Our Time Capsule because we believe that adults play a critical role in supporting children to tell their stories," said Colleen Cicchetti, Executive Director, Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children's Hospital. "We've developed guides to help parents, caregivers, educators and camp counselors promote children's healthy emotional expression and coping as they process and make meaning of their experiences from the past year. We are excited to share this unique opportunity with our partner organizations so that they may engage youth across the city in this reflective activity."

"Libraries are keepers of stories, which makes us a natural partner for this project," said Chris Brown, Commissioner, Chicago Public Library. "Once Upon Our Time Capsule emphasizes the power of story to create meaningful connections during a time when so many kids have struggled with isolation. We are proud to be a center for community and healing as part of this initiative."

Once Upon Our Time Capsule is supported by the generosity of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chicago Public Library Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Polk Bros. Foundation.

Multiple Inc., a branding and marketing firm based in Chicago, Atlanta and Vancouver, is generously providing pro bono strategic branding, website and communication services for Once Upon Our Time Capsule.

For information on how to partner, to donate or to volunteer, visit


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