Thirteen years after its inception in 2008, the National Indo-American Museum (NIAM), which builds bridges across generations and connects cultures through the diverse colorful stories of Indian Americans, marked a landmark moment with the inauguration of its Umang and Paragi Patel Center in Lombard, Illinois on October 15, 2021. Founding members, board members, major donors, supporters, prominent state officials, and the press gathered at the museum for a “sneak preview” evening of celebration prior to the museum’s official opening October 16.
The evening kicked off with a welcome address by President Deven Kane celebrating NIAM’s first physical building, an important milestone for a community organization. He thanked NIAM’s major donors, Dr. Umang and Paragi Patel, for their generous gift of the building. A longtime supporter of the museum, Umang spoke of the significance of the moment and NIAM’s journey in reaching this milestone.
Next, the Consul General of India, Chicago, Amit Kumar, joined by his wife, Surabhi Kumar, spoke about the value of NIAM’s physical presence. He struck a chord with listeners by remarking that, in a job that entails movement every few years, as a family they always make sure to create a “little India” and remain connected to their roots wherever they go.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi shared encouraging remarks about the relevance of organizations like NIAM. He noted that the number of Indian Americans has been increasing steadily, fast approaching the 5 million mark and making it among the fastest-growing immigrant communities, according to the 2020 Census. He also noted that the community is among the most educated and economically thriving, with an increasing influence across both major U.S. political parties.
Shaurya Kumar, chair of faculty and associate professor at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, talked about the museum’s opening exhibition, E/Merge: Art of the Indian Diaspora, made possible with major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. As curator. Kumar explained how he “attempted to challenge preconceptions of what and how we represent ourselves and our histories through this exhibition.” E/Merge artists Kuldeep Singh and Nandita Raman spoke about their work, vision, and influences against the backdrop of their rich lived experiences.
NIAM board member and major donor Sujaya Rupani, who praised the 18+ months of time commitment and effort by a diligent project team, served as host for the evening. Former board member and founding member Lakshmi Menon took stage with fellow founding members Padma Rangaswami, Dorothie Shah, Harpreet Datt, Gyan Agarwal, and Prem Sharma. NIAM’s office manager and program coordinator, Jitesh Jaggi, kept the program moving.
The highlight of the evening arrived when Dr. and Mrs. Patel cut the ceremonial ribbon to inaugurate the brand-new Umang and Paragi Patel Center National Indo-American Museum. Groups of 20 guests, guided by docents, then viewed the creations of the nine emerging, contemporary Indian-American visual artists from across the United States.
Board member Beverly Kumar said, “We are here now standing on solid ground, and together we will immortalize the immigrant stories of Indian Americans.”
“E/MERGE Art of the Indian Diaspora”
runs Saturday, October 16 through Sunday, March 27, 2022
as the inaugural exhibition of the
National Indo-American Museum’s new home,
the Umang and Paragi Patel Center,
815 S. Main Street, Lombard, Illinois.
Museum/exhibition opening hours:
Saturday and Sunday, 1–5 p.m.
Group tours are available by appointment.
Adult admission at the door is $5, 10% discount for groups of 10 or more.
Student admission is $3,free for those attending art classes.
Admission for children younger than 12 is free (except groups).
Admission includes access to programs taking place on the same day.
Free parking is available. All programming is subject to change.
For information, including COVID-19 protocols, visit niam.org.
The National Indo-American Museum (NIAM) aims to document and exhibit the stories of diverse Indian communities across America, creating an archive of Indo-American history and culture for future generations. Launched in 2008 as the Indo-American Heritage Museum, NIAM grew organically from the Education department of Chicago’s Indo-American Center. NIAM is the first U.S. museum established by Indian Americans, evolving to tell the stories of this immigrant community. It is also the first museum of its kind to combine art, education, and digital technology to preserve the heritage and celebrate the contributions of Indian Americans to America’s cultural mosaic.
NIAM is supported in part by the Arts Work Fund, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Ralla Klepak Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Studio Institute, US Bank, and many individual donors.
All photos by Suresh Bodiwala