On a recent Friday afternoon, about 20 people gathered in the theater at the National Civil Rights Museum to watch an introductory film before touring the 18-year-old museum.
The film features speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., and former presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Yet there's not one clip showing the country's first African-American president, Barack Obama.
Two design firm finalists in the museum's renovation competition hope to change that, as well as spruce up the interior and exterior of the museum.
"Museums typically renovate their permanent exhibitions every 10 to 15 years. There's normal wear and tear, and you need to update your presentations," said Tracy Lauritzen Wright, the museum's director of special projects.
The museum has narrowed the competition to two firms: Amaze Design in Boston and Howard+Revis Design Services in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, both firms presented initial plans for creating a more cohesive and visible museum campus.
Renderings from both firms are viewable at
CivilRightsMuseum.org. Museum patrons can offer their opinions on an online survey through April 5th.
Tracy Revis, a principal with Howard+Revis Design, said she hopes to bring in more signage, banners, and some outdoor exhibits. She also wants to move the Movement to Overcome lobby sculpture to the courtyard.
"We're looking at ways to add more visual clues along Main Street, but our strategy is not to undermine the authenticity of the site," Revis said. "Part of the power of the site is frozen in time, in 1968. We don't want to doll it up or overdesign it."'
Revis said her firm will create a new introductory film for the museum and will alter the theater screen so it parts when the film is over. Currently, visitors exit the theater through a side door.
Sarah Smith, director of exhibit development with Amaze Design, said her firm is looking at moving the ticket booth from the lobby to a pavilion near the parking lot.
"We've created a cohesive experience that unites the inside and outside," Smith said. "We're moving ticketing to the edge of the campus, so that everything afterward is a continuous experience.
"The moment you walk through the doors, you'll be looking at the first exhibit: the Movement to Overcome sculpture. The film in the theater would run on a continuous loop so you can enter and exit at any time," Smith added.
Currently, visitors wait to view the film at scheduled times, causing large groups to back up in the museum gallery.
After the concept design phase, the two firms also will look at renovating the permanent exhibits.
"There's a lot of dense content in our exhibits, and it can be overwhelming," said Lauritzen Wright. "We want to make it easier for visitors to learn the main points from each exhibit."