On June 28, 2021, Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States, awarded Perri Irmer the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in a ceremony held at the DuSable Museum of African American History, in Chicago.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Perri Irmer,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today at the DuSable Museum of African American History.
It is an honor to award Mrs. Perri Irmer the medal of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, France’s highest cultural honor. France has a long history of recognizing exceptional accomplishments in many domains. The Order of Arts and Letters was established to recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts and culture in France and throughout the world. Perri Irmer is the very embodiment of these qualities, for her commitment to the special relationship between France and Chicago.
Perri, you grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in the Kenwood Community of Hyde Park, having raised your three daughters here, and still living in the area today.You have an impressive and very inspiring career, nearly giving the impression that you have lived several lives.Your career as well as your eagerness to learn, to perform, to embrace challenges, to serve the common interest are all objects of admiration and pride for your parents, daughters, and your loved ones. After earning a degree from the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then working a few years in architecture firms and construction management, you came back to school to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago.
Then, you held many successful and you have also been a member of several boards in the city.
In 2015, you accepted a new challenge as the President and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History, the iconic institution founded by Dr Margaret Burroughs. The “DuSable” is the first independent museum dedicated to the collection and preservation of Black history in the United States, as well as a Smithsonian affiliate. Since then, you have worked tirelessly, advancing the founder’s vision for the museum to be a center for African and African American arts and culture, as well as a center for research, leadership, and community advancement.
The French Embassy had the great privilege, under your guidance, to collaborate on the reopening of the “Roundhouse” here in 2017 with, at the same time a thriving common project with the Palais de Tokyo, which brought together French and Chicago artists. The same year, you also invited, French artist Nicolas Henry who created a photographic tale with young students from local communities, telling the adventures of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the founder of the city of Chicago, and his Native American wife, Kitihawa. DuSable and his wife were truly pioneers of Chicago, the global city we know today.
We also partnered with you to commemorate the decisive role of the United States, our oldest ally, in World War I. A major exhibition was held in 2018, telling the heroic story of the 370th Infantry Regiment of Illinois, under the command of French General Vincendon with French forces, because the American Army was segregated. It actually became the most decorated American unit of that war. Its band, by playing concerts for the French people during the lulls between fighting the Germans, introduced jazz to the French, who have since then embraced and admired this art form. Our gratitude to your troops remains in perpetuity.
This month, the French Consulate had the honor to collaborate with you on the occasion of the Centennial of Bessie Coleman. Together we celebrated her achievement as the first woman of African and Indigenous descent to receive an international pilot’s license. Being a Black woman barred her from attending flight training schools in the US. She had to cross the Atlantic to earn the license in France (at le Crotoy). Before that she attended night classes to learn French. The original pilot’s license is on display at the DuSable.
These are just examples of joint initiatives and projects.
Dear Perri Irmer, you have contributed in an exceptional way to bringing France and Chicago closer together, highlighting the cultural and historic relationships as well as the strong mutual respect between African-Americans and France.But the truth is, you have been a Francophile long before your involvement with the Museum. Since your college days, you have been traveling to France, especially in Provence, and in the French-speaking world. As a student architect, you worked on several projects in Algeria. The Cote D’Azur is one of your favorite spots in the world. You especially love the Foundation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence.
While residing three years in The Netherlands, you traveled as much as you could to Paris with your family. Now that we, in France, have reopened our borders, you and your family, and all your friends here are welcome to come to our country again!
I am fully convinced that there is still a long and beautiful story to come between you and France.
Dear Perri Irmer, tonight, for your prominent contribution to the advancement of the arts, for fostering the exchange and dialogue between France and the United States, I am proud, on behalf of the French Republic, to bestow upon you this award, as a token of appreciation for the great work you have done as a friend of France.
Perri Irmer, au nom de la Ministre de la Culture, nous vous faisons chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.