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The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is more than a year into major renovations of the center core of its building. The renovation is part of the museum's capital campaign to dramatically transform the museum's architectural appeal while reorganizing and renewing the presentation of its extensive collections.
Plans for the current $85 million renovation project are focused on three areas: architectural enhancements to the museum's center core, including a grand staircase and a skylight; the construction of a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem; and updates to the 43-year-old building's infrastructure. Funding for the renovation is made possible through a public-private partnership with $45.9 million in federal funds and the remaining $39.1 million from individuals, foundations and corporations.
"We are making great strides in transforming the National Museum of American History," said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. "The central core demolition is nearly finished, the shell for the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery is taking shape, and we have raised the necessary funds to complete the construction. Visitors will be amazed at the results when we re-open."
An abstract flag, made of lightweight, reflective polycarbonate and approximately 40 feet wide by 19 feet high, will soar above the entrance to the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery and will become the focal point of the museum's National Mall entrance through which more than two-thirds of the museum's visitors enter. Visitors will experience the 30-by-34-foot wool and cotton Star-Spangled Banner in a new setting with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and lighting designed to evoke the "dawn's early light."
The architects have designed a central atrium with a new skylight to dramatically open the building, and a grand staircase will connect the museum's first and second floors. Extensive 10-foot-high "artifact walls" on both the first and second floors will showcase the breadth of the museum's 3 million-object collection, and a Welcome Center on the second floor will help orient visitors. On the first floor, an exhibition gallery for the museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will present changing exhibitions, and there will be a new lobby and entrance for the 275-seat Carmichael Auditorium, as well as new retail operations.
The architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP of New York and Turner Construction are responsible for the overall planning, design and construction. New York-based design firm Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. is working with SOM on the new permanent gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner.
The museum is planning to announce a re-opening date in February 2008. Throughout the re-opening year, the museum will present new exhibitions and programs with the highlight being a major new 8,000-square-foot permanent exhibition, "On the Water: Stories from Maritime America," which replaces the museum's 30-year-old Maritime Hall.
Contributions to the museum's $180 million capital campaign total more than $150 million, including the funding for the current renovation. Of the recent gifts, the A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation has given $4.5 million for the completion of "On the Water: Stories from Maritime America," scheduled to open in 2009. The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has generously provided $2.5 million in support of the overall renovation project and the gift will be recognized at the abstract flag which marks the Star-Spangled Banner gallery entrance.
Support from current and former museum board members includes $2 million from Susan and Elihu Rose in support of the Rose Gallery, which will feature changing exhibitions; funding from Nina and Ivan Selin to create the Nina and Ivan Selin Welcome Center and $1.5 million from the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Charitable Trust and the Samuel J. LeFrak Foundation, Inc. for the new lobby of the Carmichael Auditorium to be known as the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Lobby.
The museum received 11 other donations at the $1 million level and hopes to raise an additional $27 million to reach its overall $180 million capital campaign goal by 2010.
Several previously received donations include $80 million that philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring pledged in 2000—$16 million of which will be applied toward the architectural enhancements. A portion of the $41.7 million donation from the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Foundation will support the creation of a new Lemelson Center gallery.
The Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project is made possible by major support from Polo Ralph Lauren. Generous support is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which recently provided additional funds through a matching grant; the U.S. Congress; and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The conservation project is part of Save America's Treasures, a public-private project of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Treasures of American History
A large selection of historical objects and visitor favorites from the museum's collections is on view for a limited time at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. "Treasures of American History" represents the breadth of American history, featuring an engaging mix of the famous, the familiar and the unexpected while conveying the significance of each object as a treasure of American history. The exhibition includes the Ruby Slippers, Kermit the Frog, Lincoln's top hat, the Lewis and Clark compass, the Greensboro lunch counter and Edison's light bulb.
Museum Activity During Renovation
During renovation, museum staff continues to occupy the building and plan for the re-opening, as well as work on future exhibitions, programs and research projects and acquire new collections. The museum has several traveling exhibitions on tour, including "First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image," at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Visitors may explore extensive virtual exhibitions, museum collections and find renovation work updates via the museum's Web site: http://americanhistory.si.edu. The public may subscribe to a free monthly electronic newsletter through the site for information on traveling exhibitions, public programs and plans for re-opening.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in summer 2008. For information about the museum, please visit http://americanhistory.si.edu or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).