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PHILADELPHIA, PA: American Bible Society Launches 21st Century Liberty Discovery Center

PHILADELPHIA, PA: American Bible Society Launches 21st Century Liberty Discovery Center
Behind-the-scene tour offers public sneak peek at $60 million attraction starting Dec. 13

By David W. Virtue, DD
December 4, 2018

A major new initiative by the venerable American Bible Society, will see the construction of a $60 million Faith and Liberty Discovery Center exploring the relationship between faith and liberty in America from its founding through today.

"This will be an exciting experience for people of all faiths and backgrounds," said American Bible Society President and CEO Roy Peterson. "We want the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center to be a place that unites people, shows how faith has always played a role in our nation, and helps visitors consider what difference faith can make in our lives today."

Among America's essential founding documents, the Bible is a significant organizing cultural force that has inspired, influenced and informed American ideals of liberty that continue to shape our national identity as a free people, he said.

The project illuminates the influence of the Bible on individuals in key historical and personal moments, The Rev. Alan Crippen, Chief of Exhibits, Programs and Piublic Engagement, who heads the project, told VOL.

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 with the goal of distributing free copies of the Bible in local languages throughout the world and endorsed by such luminaries as Francis Scott Key, John Jay and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Discovery Center is a block away from Independence Mall and is slated to officially open in 2020. It is expected to draw 250,000 visitors annually.

The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will feature unprecedented technology to demonstrate how the Bible has changed those who changed America. The immersive experience is being led by the award-winning firm Local Projects, which recently spearheaded the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York and ranks as one of the most innovative design agencies in the nation. Architectural design is being led by the Philadelphia principals of JacobsWyper Architects' SaylorGregg Studio, said Crippen.

Construction began this week, when Philadelphia civic and faith leaders celebrated at a groundbreaking ceremony.

"This will attract not just visitors, but residents," said Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla. "Regardless of your faith and whether you believe in God, this gives us an opportunity to learn from what people had in the past and what we might have in the future. It adds to the history and the culture and the diversity of our city."

The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will be built on the ground floor and concourse levels of the Wells Fargo building at 5th and Market streets. A 9,000-square foot glass lobby will extend toward Independence Mall, and it will feature a landmark destination -- a 2-story iconic sculpture of three intertwined surfaces. The surfaces represent the three documents essential to the founding of the United States -- the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bible. The core values from these documents are carved into the sculpture's edges, symbolizing the inseparable relationship.

All told, the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will be 40,000-square feet, including an innovation and education center, five galleries and a 3D immersive theater.

The construction of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will create 540 temporary jobs and drive $110 million in economic impact, according to Econsult Solutions, Inc., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. After the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center opens, it will employ about 60 people and generate about $267,000 in state taxes annually.

Once opened, the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is projected to add more than $10 million annually to Philadelphia's economy.

The public can take a free, behind-the-scenes tour Dec. 13 at noon to learn more about the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. Participants will "step inside" the future galleries and see how the attraction will spotlight stories of people across a full faith spectrum who have turned to the Bible for inspiration -- whether they were drafting the Declaration of Independence, protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, or assisting with relief efforts after 9/11.

The galleries are being created by Local Projects. In addition to their work on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum, Local Projects has engineered two of the 20 most influential exhibit designs this century (Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum) .

"These are powerful stories that will be told using technology people have never seen," said Jake Barton, principal of Local Projects. "From the religious tolerance of early Philadelphia to Martin Luther King's leadership in the Civil Rights movement, visitors will not just witness history, they'll participate in it."

The content has been shaped by a distinguished scholarly team of top historians, religious experts and legal scholars from varying religions and different countries. The team includes a Pulitzer-prize winning author, the Librarian of Congress Emeritus, and a member of the federal commission that is planning the 2026 celebration to mark the nation's 250th birthday.

One of the scholars is American University professor Daniel Dreisbach, whose research has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. He spoke at the National Constitution Center in October about "Faith and The Founding: The Bible and The Constitution," and he said it's fitting that the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will be located on Independence Mall.

"This is America's most historic square mile, and it will now display the three documents that shaped America -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bible," Dreisbach continued. "There's a fascinating intersection of religion, politics, and law in the founding of America."

In a survey of 1,000 Americans along the East Coast, 59 percent said the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center would motivate them to come to Philadelphia, according to America's Research Group, a consumer behavior research and strategic consulting firm.

"We're glad people want to visit, and we hope that when they do, the interactive exhibits will raise some thought-provoking questions," said Peterson of American Bible Society. "But as people consider those questions, the answers will ultimately be up to each visitor to discover for themselves."

You can learn more at www.faithandliberty.org.

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