Summer kicks into high gear with the Fourth of July weekend, which usually means a few days off for a lot of folks (and to those live-sound pros who have to work, providing audio for parades, ceremonies, concerts and other festivities celebrating America’s independence, thank you).
Here in New York City, July 4 culminates with a fireworks spectacular set over the Statue of Liberty, the famed 305-foot tall edifice (properly named “Liberty Enlightening the World”) that stands on Liberty Island. A gift from France to the U.S. initially meant to honor the end of slavery here, Lady Liberty was erected in 1886 and has hosted visitors from around the world ever since to the tune of 4.5 million people a year, hitting 25,000 visitors a day during peak tourist season.
While the statue has graced New York Harbor for nearly 134 years, it now has a brand-new neighbor: the Statue of Liberty Museum. Previously the pedestal housed the museum, but since 9/11, security concerns have made getting inside the Statue something that requires buying tickets months in advance. As a result, only 15 percent of Liberty Island’s visitors ever got to see the museum, and it quickly became evident that a new, separate facility was needed.
“If you said [during the Statue’s restoration] in 1986 that we would build a free-standing building on Liberty Island, people would have said you were crazy,” says Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. “We had 9/11, things changed, attendance grew. Hurricane Sandy came along in 2012 and we were already planning the museum when some old buildings behind the statue got blown down. There was nothing left; we could just take off from there.”
The result is a brand-new museum—15,000 square feet housing eight exhibits with 150 artifacts, all spread across three galleries. The exhibits feature the original torch (preserved after being replaced in 1986); touchable recreations of Lady Liberty’s face and foot, suitable for Instagramming; and lots more, all festooned with interactive AV exhibits, most notably “Becoming Liberty,” a small forest of double-sided, vertical kiosks with touch screens. Each one places a photo of yourself along with images that you can choose from to represent what liberty means to you; then you forward them all to a massive, ever-growing collage of visitors on a nearby Unilumin 1.5mm LED wall.
The museum’s high-point, however, is its immersive theater, presenting a 10-minute film split into three parts that cover the conception of the statue, its construction and what it has come to symbolize around the world. Broken into three pod-like rooms that, seen from above, would resemble a three-leaf clover, visitors walk through the theater, ensuring steady traffic flow. Steve Haas Acoustics designed the audio system, with each room sporting a pair of JBL Control 25AVs and a Bag End IPS10E-SHV2 subwoofer behind the screen to localize sound, supported by a half-dozen Innovox SHA-90Cs in the floor. There’s no doors between the three rooms, so much of the sound absorption is provided by the audience itself.
While the sound feels immersive, Donna Lawrence, who directed the film, noted, “It’s actually stereo because you want to have more points of distribution and lower dBs in order to control it. That expansive feeling you get with surround won’t work in a space where you’re trying to keep the audio within the room boundaries.”
All of this technology is brought to bear not to merely celebrate the Statue or evoke what it represented to the world in 1886, but also to make you think about what liberty means right now, reminding all who visit that it is a flexible, ever-changing and often fragile concept that is as easily lost as it is gained. This might sound moderately interesting in the abstract, but it is a humbling, overwhelming thing to experience in person at the museum—and that resulting lump in the throat is a sure sign of effective AV.