The Power of a Picture: How Images Engage Visitors at the New Statue of Liberty Museum

Stereograph of Statue of Liberty Torch at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition

Thousands of visitors paid to climb to the top of the Statue’s torch at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The stereograph shows the Statue of Liberty’s oddly disembodied hand rising up from a tent, holding the flaming torch. Two people can be seen standing at the railing encircling the sculptured flame. The attraction was part of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, designed to raise money for the Statue’s pedestal. For 50 cents each, visitors had the opportunity to climb up and take in the view. This is just one of hundreds of images that will educate, inspire, and offer an intriguing look into the past at the new Statue of Liberty Museum on New York’s Liberty Island.

The museum you’ll see is the result of an iterative, creative process. Immersive exhibits allow visitors to flow through, surrounded by compelling visuals and interactive displays. HAI was on the content team for this museum, 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.

Our historians, including Halley Fehner and Elizabeth Livesey, explored hundreds of different collections and reached out to individuals and organizations across the world. As the designs came together, we fine-tuned our search, sometimes returning to sources to find alternative images.

HAI ultimately acquired nearly 500 photographs and graphics from more than 100 different sources for the museum. 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 collectors’ items from Coca-Cola.

The museum invites visitors to explore what the concept of liberty means to them. A novel way to illustrate this idea was by showing how artists have used the Statue as inspiration in their art. We found this aspect of this project was very moving. For many artists we spoke to, the Statue evoked strong emotions and they often shared personal stories of their own family’s immigration.

Visuals are at the heart of the museum’s culminating experience– a multimedia display called Becoming Liberty. We acquired more than 200 images to support this empowering interactive. Visitors can take a picture of themselves, identify their country of origin, and then select up to 7 images from the collection that represent their individual idea of Liberty. Their images are then displayed together in a digital mosaic showing how our own individual ideas of liberty help shape our collective ideals and our understanding of what the Statue represents.

This is an example of a growing and welcome trend we’re seeing in museum design: making the experience more of a two-way street and encouraging visitors to share with one another. To that end, if you visit the Statue of Liberty Museum, please share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #StatueofLibertyMuseum. Or provide your comments below to let us know what you think!

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