courtesy Museum of the Bible
Published June 20, 2017
If you love museums, you’re in luck: Some of America’s most popular destinations have brand-new or newly expanded museums for your group to visit.
With several new and expanding museums across the nation, these five stand out for their scope and ingenuity. The new Museum of the American Revolution and Museum of the Bible present comprehensive exhibits on their topics, and the American Writers Museum is one of a kind. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tripled its gallery space last year, and the National WWII Museum is quadrupling in size.
Museum of the American Revolution
The full story of the American Revolution has never been told so well as by Philadelphia’s newest museum. The Museum of the American Revolution opened in April just steps from Independence Hall.
Even museum creators are impressed by early reviews.
“We’ve done an excellent job of telling specific stories at specific sites throughout North America, but what was missing was a narrative to tie it all together,” said R. Scott Stephenson, the museum’s vice president for collections, exhibitions and programming. “We couldn’t have imagined this response to the way we’ve decided to tell the broader story.” Through immersive exhibits and an extensive collection of artifacts, the museum draws visitors into the 18th-century experience — the time when the outcome was wholly uncertain, and kings and common men had to pick sides.
“From this point in history, we look at the Revolution like the unfolding of a preordained plan, but there are so many points where things could have gone differently,” Stephenson said.
As visitors weave along the familiar timeline, they also hear many of the stories that don’t make it into history books, like debates between Native Americans about how to preserve themselves in the midst of civil war or the Colonial slaves who donned red coats on the path to freedom. Loyalists get their due as well.
The interactive side of the experience includes withstanding a British infantry charge in the Battlefield Theater, designing a soldier’s uniform to fit a specific loyalty and climbing aboard a life-size replica privateer ship. The museum highlight is a theatrical presentation of George Washington’s field tent; after a short film, the curtain sweeps away to reveal the space that served as his wartime bedroom and headquarters.
American Writers Museum
The country is studded with small museums dedicated to single authors, but until now, no one museum has ventured to explore all of America’s greats under one roof. This May, the American Writers Museum opened on the second floor of a vintage building along Michigan Avenue in Chicago; its mission is to explore the influence of American writers on culture.
“We’ve reached the point where our country has been around long enough that we can take a look back and see how important writers have been to the creation and continuation of culture,” said Carey Cranston, the museum’s inaugural president. “It shows how we think through our writing.”
The trick, Cranston said, was translating the solitary experience of reading into an interactive museum experience through touch screens and high-tech multimedia installations. Based on visitor response in opening weeks, the exhibits are as absorbing as a good book.
The anchor exhibit is Writers Hall — a dramatic display of 100 authors and 100 works. By turning small display boards for each, visitors get varied sensory experiences, like hearing “Oh! Susanna” or smelling cookies from Julia Child. Other permanent galleries treat the art of writing — how iconic works came to be and how writers go about creating those works today.
There are also inviting spaces for reading and, should the mood hit, spots to sit down at a typewriter and bang out something inspired. An early crowd favorite is a touch screen that reveals origins of words and phrases like “frenemy,” “Bible Belt” and “shotgun wedding.”
The current temporary installments include the giant, continuous scroll on which Jack Kerouac typed “On the Road” in the span of three weeks. One of the most culturally significant works in recent history, the scroll is a fitting inaugural piece for a museum that hopes to show the impact writers can have on the nation’s future.
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