Washington, D.C., may be America’s capital, but no city played a larger role in the country’s founding than Philadelphia. Site of the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and home to historical landmarks such as The Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, the City of Brotherly Love has welcomed travelers who seek to gain a deeper understanding of how the United States came to be and to learn more about those who played a role in its earliest days.
In 2021, visitors will be able to add a new stop on their Philadelphia itineraries. The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, which is scheduled to open May 1, seeks to help visitors discover for themselves the relationship and role of faith and liberty in fostering core American values. The attraction will feature immersive experiences, often led by a diverse team of top historians, religious experts, and legal scholars who are giving shape to the center’s diverse tours, exhibits, and programs.
Executive Director Pat Murdock shares the history of how the center came to be. “We started with an ideal location in the heart of Independence Mall and a blank canvas, and we began our baseline research in June 2015,” he explains. “Pre-design of the center was completed between December 2015 and March 2016, and the full design was completed between April 2016 and March 2017. The groundbreaking and construction mobilization started in November 2018, and we are on track to complete all construction and exhibit/media installations by March 2021. So by the time we open, from inception to completion, it will have taken us six years.”
Though Murdock serves as executive director, he made it clear that developing the center hasn’t been a one-person job.
“This historic effort has ultimately been the result of an amazing team effort by researchers, scholars, advisors, architects, exhibit and media designers, content developers, marketers, partners, and a core staff team, combined with an amazing location and a unique moment in history, all culminating in what has become the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.” These experts will continue their involvement with the center after its opening, assisting with ongoing development and educational programs.
And what will visitors experience once the center opens? This 40,000-square-foot center has 25,000 square feet of exhibit space spread out over six galleries on two floors. It was designed by partners such as Local Projects, which spearheaded the design of New York City’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and the Philadelphia-based architectural team of JacobsWyper.
The six galleries, Murdock says, explore the common values among three historic instruments: The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bible. Each gallery correlates individually with one of six core values: faith, justice, liberty, unity, hope, and love.
Murdock offers greater detail on each gallery. “The Faith Gallery explores how faith and the Bible played an integral role in creating the radical experiment of America. In the Liberty Gallery, visitors learn how biblically inspired individuals from the 17th-century to the present day have worked to expand America’s religious, political, civil, and economic liberties. The Justice Gallery explores America’s complex path toward this important societal value. The Hope Gallery will showcase how people in our nation have turned to the Bible in times of great crisis. In the Unity Gallery, guests can reflect on the inspirational content collected in their digital lamps, making connections between their experience at the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center and the challenges facing our world today. Liberties Light, our 3D Theater, brings the center’s experience to full fruition, leaving visitors inspired by what they have learned, connecting the past to the present and a vision of a better future.”
The “digital lamps” he mentions are what makes the center, in Murdock’s words, “a truly immersive experience. Guests will be guided through the galleries with a brilliant hand-held device in the form of an illuminated lamp.
This beacon will not only help bring individual exhibits to life, it will also allow guests to collect experiences that mean the most to them, letting them download details to their personal devices so that they can share and save content.”
Continuing on this theme, Murdock says that a virtual museum shop will allow visitors to design their own souvenirs to be delivered to them afterward. The interactive components of the experience continues even after visitors have left the building.
“When guests leave,” Murdock explains, “they will be given a personal code that will allow them to access their saved memories online, reliving and contemplating their personal journey from the comfort of home. They will also be able to continue their experience after they leave the center by using the Faith and Liberty Trail app, which includes a guided walking tour that will connect several historic and religious sites in Old City Philadelphia. It will direct people to these locations across the city and allow them to stand in many historic religious locations—including virtual recreations of buildings no longer standing—directly influenced by the Bible.”
This is where the center’s physical location proves to be of ultimate value. Situated at the corner of 5th and Market streets on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, which has been dubbed “America’s Most Historic Square Mile,” the center is just a short walk away from sites such as The Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and the National Museum of American Jewish History.
According to Murdock, its strategic location is by design.
“The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center adds the missing piece to the story of America’s founding. When visitors tour Philadelphia, they see quotes from scripture on everything from the Liberty Bell to historic buildings. The center is designed to bring this to life, encouraging visitors to understand and absorb it in a relevant and personal way, and it ensures that an exploration of Philadelphia is more enjoyable, more informed, and more inspiring.”
Due to the highly interactive nature of the center, he recommends that at least 90 minutes be dedicated to a visit.
Murdock succinctly states why the center should become a regular stop on any Philadelphia itinerary by explaining that it is “geared to people of all faiths and no faith. We hope visitors will leave with a better understanding of the values that guided our Founding Fathers as well as the understanding that faith guides liberty toward justice.”
Tickets for admission to the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center can be purchased here. For more information, email Lisa Arrell, the center’s senior manager, sales and marketing, or go to faithandliberty.org.
Top photo: Faith and Liberty Discovery Center exhibit
Photo by Faith and Liberty Discovery Center