PORTAGE PARK — Every day — if not multiple times a day — someone calls the National Veterans Art Museum and asks if they can see the dog tag exhibit honoring veterans of the Vietnam War.
And for the first time in nearly three years, museum officials have an answer.
The massive "Above and Beyond Memorial" will be installed at the Harold Washington Library Center, and go on display starting Feb. 20, culminating a painstaking search to find a suitable — although temporary — home for the 58,000 replica dog tags honoring those who died as a result of their service in the war that stretched from March 1965 to May 1975.
"It is a reverent space," said Lionel Rabb, the chairman of the National Veterans Art Museum board. "It is the right space. It is going to be great."
Rabb said he and the board considered several other locations for the exhibit, including Navy Pier and the South Shore Cultural Center before settling on the Harold Washington Library Center.
When the museum moved from the South Side to Portage Park in 2012, there was not enough room — or a strong enough ceiling — to display the exhibit.
"It is a profound piece, an important piece," Rabb said. "It was important to everyone at the museum to get it back on public display."
At the library, the piece will hang the main escalator bank that reaches the third floor, visible from through a wall of windows and all sides on the third floor.
A touch-panel display will allow visitors to look up a veteran's name and help them locate the dog tag that was hand-stamped with his or her name.
First unveiled in 2001, the work by artists and veterans Rick Steinbock, Ned Broderick, Joe Fornelli and Mike Helbing is designed to make the "impact of combat visible to all."
The museum's mission is to "understand combat through the eyes of those who experienced it," officials said.
The installation was funded by state funds as well as private grants from the Rabb Family Foundation, led by Rabb, and Col. Jennifer Pritzker's Pritzker Military Museum and Library.
The museum was founded in 1982 as the Vietnam Veterans Art Group, and opened at its first location on South Indiana Avenue in 1996. In 2003, it began focusing on art by veterans of all wars and in 2010, changed its name.
It is fitting that "Above and Beyond" be displayed at the library named for Washington, the first African-American mayor of Chicago, Rabb said, since Washington served in World War II.
"Above and Beyond" is scheduled to remain on exhibit through April 2020, when Rabb said it will "return home" to the museum, which he said will have moved into a "permanent" location.
The museum will launch a capital campaign to fund the effort to relocate into a new or remodeled free-standing building in 2016, said Rabb, who is also the founder of the Ed Paschke Art Center in Jefferson Park.
The museum shares its building at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave. with the Filament Theatre Ensemble, a folk-art theater, and Inside Out Art Studio, which offers art classes, special events and mask making.
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