THE LOOP — A shiny metal box planted in the northeast corner of the Chicago Cultural Center looks like a mix between a high-security safe and a space capsule — and the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events wants to cram you and a loved one inside.
The box, unveiled Tuesday, is actually "StoryBooth," a compact recording studio that's hooked up with a sound board and a small table with two chairs, two microphones and a box of tissues.
The goal is that members of the public will bring a loved one to the booth and record a 40-minute conversation sharing life stories.
At the end of each interview, a recording will be burned onto two CDs: one for the participants and another to be sent to the Library of Congress, where it will be added to what has become "the largest collection of human voices ever gathered," said David Isay, who founded the project and StoryCorps in 2003 with a similar setup in New York's Grand Central Terminal.
The booth will be at the Cultural Center for three years, but the contract with StoryCorps "can be extended indefinitely," according to cultural affairs spokeswoman Cindy Gatziolis.
Chicago's NPR affiliate, WBEZ, is loaning staff to oversee recordings and will air a local series of "StoryCorps Chicago" recordings every Friday on 91.5 FM. WBEZ had a hand in finding StoryCorps a permanent Chicago home, which Isay said was always one of his goals for the project.
Chicago Public Media CEO and President Torey Malatia, who oversees WBEZ, joked Tuesday that the Chicago StoryBooth opening was the culmination of 20 years of collaboration and friendship with Isay.
"We've been trying to do this for a long time; that it happened is wonderful," Malatia said Tuesday. "We made it happen. Remember, this is Chicago. Remember Miegs Field? If we want it to happen, it will happen. And so I'm very proud that it finally has."
Weekend Edition host Scott Simon christened the booth by interviewing his mother, Patricia. But before stepping into the silver box, he thanked Isay, Malatia and the city for giving Chicagoans a voice.
StoryBooth will capture Chicagoans' "acts of courage, genius and generosity every day," Simon said.
"This booth is going to be important for people to listen to each other, and to learn from each other, and to cherish the gift that we can give each other of our life story, and the life of this great city," Simon said.
StoryBooth will be open from 12:30-7 p.m. Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, though interested participants are encouraged to make advanced reservations online or by phone. Reservations open on the first Monday of each month at 10 a.m.
Recording sessions are free, but a $25 donation is suggested with a reservation.