The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will open in 2021, giving Philadelphia’s Independence Mall a destination where guests can explore the relationship between faith, liberty and justice.
“We want to document the influence of the Bible on our country, exploring how it inspired the nation’s ideas and how it continues to guide us today,” says the center’s Executive Director Pat Murdock.
Murdock says Independence Mall is a natural location for contemplating faith since the room where the Declaration of Independence, which celebrates liberty, and the Constitution, which centers on justice, were signed is within walking distance.
To commemorate the relationship of these three documents and the values of faith, liberty and justice, Murdock’s team has designed a sculpture of three strands that will be installed in the plaza outside the center.
The 40,000-sq.-ft. center, which is being built on the ground floor of the American Bible Society’s headquarters, will be a “museum of the future,” Murdock says. “When you think of the word ‘museum,’ you think of old things from long ago that are irrelevant,” he says. “We’re creating a relatable, interactive, immersive experience that’s anything but irrelevant.”
The center is organized by stories of individuals. The stories of Americans like Sojourner Truth and John Quincy Adams will be told through video, artifacts and visuals, prompting visitors to contemplate how these heroes’ faith fueled their work.
“The issues faced by the people featured in the center are still happening today—immigration, racism. So, we want people to ask, ‘What does the Bible say about them?’” Murdock explains.
He continues, “As Americans, we have lost a sense of who we are and the values that have historically united us. We have historical amnesia.”
He hopes that once people are reminded of American values and common ground through interacting with the stories presented in the center, they’ll be equipped with language for discussion. “We want to pave a better way forward as we recover some of the lost history,” he says.
At the entrance of the center, visitors will be given a handheld lamp that will serve as a data collection tool. As they see exhibits they’d like to study in-depth later, they can touch their lamp to any of the center’s 76 collection points and data from that exhibit will be sent to a personalized web page they can access any time.
At the end of the visit, the lamp’s technology will also create a mosaic that will illustrate what inspired the guests the most.
“Most museums have a hard time getting people to reengage with content post-experience, but we want the experience at the discovery center to be just a start of something that begins to resonate in their heart,” he says.
Murdock says he is excited about the customization options that will be available in the on-site store. Guests will be able to access the website where they’ve collected data and choose any of the visuals or content to be displayed on merchandise like a T-shirt, piece of jewelry or mug. These guest-designed purchases will be shipped to the visitor’s home.
In addition to the technology, the center will be equipped to host groups, with several spaces available for ancillary gatherings or informal meetups. The concourse floor, below the museum, will be a 15,000-sq.-ft. education center where tour groups can connect before or after they visit. A plaza space with a platform for presentations is being constructed also, and the grand lobby is a gathering space as well.
Murdock says that the center is for anyone and everyone, not just Christians.
“We are building the center for people of all faiths and for people of no faith—it’s for everyone. We hope they all will walk away with inspiration and a new understanding of the role faith played in founding America,” he says.