Taking a Stand at the Illinois Holocaust Museum
Illinois Holocaust Museum
For anyone with a stake in humanity, the new “Take a Stand Center” at the Illinois Holocaust Museum is an experience not to be missed. G&A designed immersive, interactive exhibits around groundbreaking technology created by the USC Shoah Foundation to encourage visitors to learn, be inspired, and take action.
The new Center is grounded in the heavy reality that Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever. Yet it also takes important steps in counteracting their inevitable departure, ensuring that their legacies live on in the visitors who hear their stories.
The exhibit’s centerpiece is the Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience, which features holographic interview recordings with 13 Holocaust survivors. G&A collaborated with the USC Shoah Foundation to record 360-degree videos of these survivors answering upwards of 2,000 questions about their experiences. Groundbreaking new technology allows visitors to ask the holographic images of Survivor’s questions as they answer in real time using footage drawn from the extensive interviews. The result is the next closest thing to speaking to a flesh-and-blood survivor—guaranteeing human connections live on long after these important people have passed.
“G&A is the first exhibit design firm to work with the New Dimensions in Testimony technology developed by the USC Shoah Foundation,” said G&A President Patrick Gallagher. “We are proud to be taking this important step forward in the future of museums.”
Yet G&A’s involvement reaches beyond the theater, as important context had to be set before and after the experience to render it relevant and inspiring to the visitor. G&A supplied the educational narrative necessary to contextualize the new technology.
The gallery prior to the Survivor Stories Experience features a short video produced by the G&A media team. Spoken word poet Harold Green speaks to the audience: “When you realize you are not alone but linked through human experience, you find strength in your existence.” This video immediately engages visitors, especially middle and high school students, and reminds them that they have the ability to “take a stand.”
“Almost every survivor we interviewed said they managed to go on because someone helped them; someone resisted the horrible conditions they were in and gave them a glimpse of hope,” said Ariel Efron, Creative Director of Media at G&A. “From the very beginning of the ‘Take a Stand Center,’ we aim to inspire visitors to be that person.”
Even the interviews with the holograms themselves needed context to be effective. G&A created three five-minute introductory films for each Holocaust survivor featured in the program in order to tell their stories. These narratives introduce the survivor to the audience and give them a platform on which to ask questions.
Following the emotional experience in the theater, the exhibit moves into broader subject matter that ties the experiences of the survivors to today’s world. In the “Upstanders Gallery,” interpretive panels outline five themes drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, breaking down complex subject matter and relaying the need for social justice in our everyday lives.
Visitors then interact with 28 “upstanders” who have dedicated their lives to fighting for human rights. Phrases from Desmond Tutu to Malala Yousafzai are engraved on mirrors so that audiences can literally see themselves in these “upstanders” words. Young audiences especially will find themselves inspired by the heroic stories and achievements of these people.
The following gallery is the “Take a Stand Lab,” a highly interactive space where visitors can operate media kiosks that provide them with a set of tools to take action in their own communities. This experience is intended to connect the survivors’ stories to present day, and to give visitors resources to carry on their legacies to ensure that we never forget, we fight against injustice, and we take a stand.
“It is very clear to me that if we do not build a bridge and pass our knowledge to the next generation, the Holocaust will become a forgotten paragraph in history,” said Efron. “But through our work at the Take a Stand Center, I do believe that we have built a solid foundation for that bridge. We are ensuring that the Holocaust stays relevant to younger audiences today, and in doing that, we are making a difference.”
Senior Exhibit Director and Senior Associate at G&A Greg Matty agree: “even if just a few kids are inspired to take that next step in their own lives, this project will be a great success.”