It’s always thrilling to see Lady Liberty up close, even for this jaded New Yorker. I must admit it’s rare that I get the chance, but I did at the Statue of Liberty’s 125th birthday celebration on October 28th. The event—which included marching bands, politicians, celebrities, and, of course, fireworks—also commemorated the opening of the Peopling of America Center at Ellis Island, which was designed by ESI and marks an important milestone in our long-term collaboration with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
Until now, the Foundation’s exhibits have centered on the years when Ellis Island was open—from 1892 to 1954. But that, of course, leaves out a huge part of the story of immigration to the US. So, the Peopling of America Center was created to include the entire panorama of the American immigration experience, including those who came before Ellis Island opened and after it closed. Phase I of the Center, Before Ellis Island, is a 10,000 square foot exhibit that focuses on the history of immigration from the Colonial Era to the opening of Ellis Island. The exhibit uses interpretative graphics and audio stories of first-hand accounts of immigrants’ journeys—from making the trip and arriving in the US to their struggle and survival after they arrived and efforts to build communities and ultimately a nation.
One of the goals of the project was to create an experience that allowed for a more personal connection to immigration. The American Flag of Faces, which also opened on 10/28, does just that. It is a fun and moving digital display of visitor-contributed photographs in the form of the American flag. Visitors can add photographs of their families, ancestors or themselves, creating a permanent memorial online and onsite at Ellis Island. It is, of course, exciting to see yourself and/or your family members featured on the big screen, but the impact lies in the collection of American faces from people of all ages, races, and backgrounds—a powerful symbol of unity and diversity. You can read about the new experience in an article in Print magazine.
And there is more to come. Phase II, which will open in Spring 2013, will tell the story of immigration from the closing of Ellis Island in 1954 to the present day, with a series of interactive, multi-media exhibit experiences. We look forward to creating and sharing the expansive story of immigration.