At the new Statue of Liberty Museum, opened on May 16, 2019, visitors have the opportunity to explore the history and grandeur of this colossal figure and consider the role of liberty in their world today. Throughout the museum ESI Design used immersive and interactive media in new and unexpected ways to tell the important cultural story of Liberty and bring the Statue’s history to life. This includes a three-part Immersive Theater, three state-of-the-art digital interactive exhibits, custom soundscapes, projection mapping, and more. Original soundscapes combine archival sound, theatrical recreations, and generative compositions to provide a seamless audio journey throughout the museum.
The museum is one of the first to incorporate the 2018 updated and standardized digital accessibility requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires all US federal institutions to make information technology and interactive experiences accessible to all, including hearing- and visually-impaired visitors. This makes the Statue of Liberty Museum one of the most accessible museums in the world for digital and interactive technology.
The museum was designed to overcome some key challenges to create access for all visitors—regardless of age, language, culture or ability. Only 20% of the 4.3 million annual visitors to Liberty Island could visit the original gallery in the Statue’s Pedestal due to security restrictions post-9/11, and an even smaller percentage are able to climb up to the Statue’s crown. Also, many visitors (up to 50%) do not speak English or speak it as a second language.
The visitor journey begins in the Immersive Theater featuring a cinematic film that provides an overview of the story of the Statue, from its origins to present day. The film is told in three parts across three “nodes” in the theater. The film combines archival imagery, motion graphics, and drone footage on projection screens that curve around visitors, evoking the drapery of the Statue’s gown. Multiple projectors blend in each node of the theater to produce seamless 6K footage in nodes 1 and 3 and 8K footage in node 2 – a unique challenge for any filmmaker. Speakers embedded in the floor and arrayed strategically behind the screens create full immersion for visitors.
In the Engagement Gallery, visitors can delve deeper into stories about the Statue’s construction and history, and explore the multifaceted, sometimes contested ideal of liberty through artifacts, exhibits, digital media and interactives. In a recreation of the sculptor Bartholdi’s studio, projections are mapped with precision to layer over an archival photograph of his workshop, bringing the visitors attention to unique content and enhancing the environment with atmospheric effects such as dust particles. In this exhibit, speakers embedded in the walls play a theatrical soundscape that recreates the sounds of making the Statue including a bed of workers voices calling out to each other as they build wooden forms and hammer copper, transporting visitors almost 150 years into the past.
In two interactive exhibits, touchscreens are used to create organic interaction experiences that allow visitors to pore over otherwise-inaccessible archival materials from museums across the globe. The first, “Bartholdi’s Sketches,” is a virtual sketchbook of the Statue’s sculptor’s drawings, with pages that users flip with touch like a physical book. The second, “the Statue in Popular Culture,” is a digital poster library featuring representations of the Statue in art, advertisements, protest art, and more. Utilizing an infinite scroll, the experience feels like combing through a boundless archive.
Further in the Engagement Gallery, two transparent LCD screens act as digital window panes onto the streets of Paris and Brooklyn streets, and display historical content surrounding the French and American fundraising efforts for the Statue.
The emotional culmination of the museum is the Inspiration Gallery, featuring the Becoming Liberty interactive and LED canvas. On 20 touch screen kiosks, visitors are prompted to answer the question, “What does Liberty mean to you?”, by choosing up to seven curated images and taking a self-portrait. Their choices join with those made by other visitors in a sweeping, panoramic mosaic on a large LED wall. Data visualizations inform visitors about the popularity of certain images and the global nature of the museum’s audience. These visualizations also challenge each visitor to consider the ways their own perspective relates to, or contrasts with, those of previous and current visitors. An ambient soundscape sets a reflective, inspiring tone for the area, where visitors can see Statue's original historic torch up close, with the Statue of Liberty herself in the distance, set against the New York skyline.
As a federal institution, the Statue of Liberty Museum is not commercial in nature. Instead, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and National Park Service challenged ESI Design to create an engaging museum that accommodates the enormous volume of visitors, provides a rewarding experience for visitors of all abilities, encourages visitors to engage more deeply with the Statue, and invites visitors to contribute their ideas about liberty.
The result is an experience that gives all 4.3 million annual visitors to Liberty Island unprecedented access to the Statue of Liberty, its history, and cultural significance today. The non-linear layout invites visitors to engage with Liberty’s story at their own pace and in multiple ways. The museum is intentionally very visual and experiential, rather than text-heavy, creating a visitor experience that is enjoyable and understandable by people of all cultures and who speak any language. Digital experiences are seamlessly integrated into the exhibits to enhance visitors' understand of the Statue of Liberty, rather than feeling extraneous or out of place. Visitors leave the Statue of Liberty Museum feeling as if they are part of a greater whole and have a critical role to play in helping liberty thrive at home and throughout the world.
The Statue of Liberty Museum has been covered internationally on television, in print and online in outlets including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BBC News and Architectural Digest. TIME ranked the museum as one of the World's Coolest Places, and Fast Company writes: “Every American should visit the new Statue of Liberty Museum.”
Statue of Liberty Museum
Best Immersive Experience