The Statue of Liberty Museum is opening today on Liberty Island, New York. At a time when the values that built the republic are under siege by its own president, the museum is a much needed reprieve: a place to learn about what the country has stood for ever since the Statue of Liberty first welcomed millions of poor and persecuted immigrants to New York Harbor in the 19th century.
At face value, the 26,000-square-foot building–by the architecture firm FXCollaborative–celebrates the most famous statue in the world. A gift from the people of France to the United States, it was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi to represent the Roman goddess of liberty. Architect Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) built it in copper, and the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. It quickly became a universal symbol of freedom, equality, and fraternity among all humans and every institution that those values bring, from free press to free elections.
And that is the deeper level of what the museum celebrates and teaches, through three installations conceived by experience design company ESI Design.
The first installation is an immersive theater, which features an intense, eight-minute-long multimedia experience in which visitors learn about the statue’s history, its construction, and what it symbolizes.
The second installation is called the engagement gallery, an interactive area in which visitors relive what it was to be like inside the warehouse where Bartholdi built the statue, complete with artifacts and original casts used to pound the statue’s copper skin into shape.
The tour ends in a third area called the inspiration gallery where, according to the museum, people can reflect on their experience but also admire the most valuable and powerful object: the statue’s original torch, which was replaced by a replica after a storm damaged it in 1984. Until now, that torch–made of copper and gold–has been on display in the statue’s pedestal.
The torch, along with a model of the statue’s face that people can touch, is set against panoramic glass windows that give visitors unobstructed views of the statue and New York City’s skyline. It’s an inspiring view at a time when we could all use as much hope as we can muster.