The original Statue of Liberty Museum occupied a small area in the Statue’s pedestal, but with increased security after 9/11 and growing crowds, most visitors to Liberty Island couldn’t see it. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., sought to create a new museum that would accommodate more visitors and engage them to learn the history and explore the meaning behind the Statue.
The concept for the new museum included modern, immersive exhibits that would allow visitors to flow through, surrounded by compelling visuals and interactive displays—a concept that required a significant amount of new and historic imagery.
HAI served on the content team for this museum, responsible for finding just the right images to tell the story of one of the most iconic structures in the world. We worked in close collaboration with experience design firm ESI Design and fabricators at Maltbie, along with our clients at the National Park Service, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, and subject matter experts who made up the project’s History Advisory Committee.
The museum invites visitors to explore not just the history of the Statue, but what the concept of liberty means to them. This mission challenged our historians to locate a wide variety of images ranging from the 1800s to the present day. We secured rare historic photos of the Statue’s construction from the Bartholdi Museum in France and fascinating sketches of early designs of the pedestal from the Library of Congress. Some images came from surprising places. We gathered pop culture references such as graphic images from Marvel Comics and copies of vintage advertisements from Coca-Cola. To delve into the meaning of liberty, we also sought out artists who used the Statue as inspiration in their art.
Visuals are at the heart of the museum’s culminating experience—a multimedia display called Becoming Liberty. To support this empowering interactive, we acquired nearly 200 images that evoke different concepts of liberty. Digital kiosks prompt visitors to take a picture of themselves, identify their country of origin, and then create a collage of up to 7 images from the collection that represent what liberty means to them. All of the visitor montages are later displayed in a large digital mosaic showing how individual ideas come together to create our collective ideals of what the Statue represents.
In all, our historians explored hundreds of different collections and reached out to individuals and organizations around the world. As the designs came together, we fine-tuned our search, sometimes returning to sources to find alternative images. We ultimately acquired nearly 500 photographs and graphics from more than 100 different sources for the museum.
In May 2019, the Statue of Liberty Museum opened to the public, garnering enthusiastic reviews in the media. “Some five years in the making, the new museum… provides a multisensory experience for the millions of people who visit every year,” according to CNN Travel. A New York Times review applauds the museum for reminding visitors of the “vague and often dubious ideal of “liberty for all.”