The exhibit that I chose to review for this assignment is The Smithsonian’s “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem”, located at The National Museum of American History Behring Center. The exhibit is a permanent fixture at the museum and is predominantly sponsored by Polo Ralph Lauren, among other donors. The exhibit exists in four distinct segments that dictate the flow of traffic from the entrance to the exit, each providing information that is important for the overall message. Chronological order is used to present the four sections of the exhibit, which are The War of 1812, the Flag, the Song, and the Legacy. The Flag acts as the crowned centerpiece of the experience, with the original 200 year old flag illuminated brilliantly in the middle of the exhibit.
There are multiple digital components to the exhibit, including moving photographs and audio recordings, but the most significant digital element is an interactive moving image of the original flag. It allows the audience to uncover interesting information about the construction of the flag, the life of seamstress Mary Pickersgill, and the restoration process that was undergone to safely preserve the integrity of the flag. With a majority of the exhibit being presented in physical and written form, this digital component serves as a great tool to diversify the way that viewers can digest the exhibit.
In my eyes, the exhibit was created in the manner that it is in order to emphasize the relationship between the War of 1812, the Flag itself, and “The Star Spangled Banner”. The target audience is really any person, American or not, who has an interest in seeing national treasures and learning about important moments in American history. It would have been easy for the Smithsonian to solely spotlight the Flag in all of its beauty and power, but instead they made it a point to force the audience to travel on a journey through the creation of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
One of the biggest challenges that the curators faced when creating this exhibit was the preservation and display of the physical flag. Measuring in at 30 feet by 42 feet and sown using cotton that is hundreds of years old, it was determined that the flag must be kept in a massive environmentally-controlled chamber and that photography would not be allowed inside the exhibit due to the possibility of light damaging the fibers of the cotton. The flag’s conservation project posed a huge risk to the flag and its integrity, consequently forcing the team of museum conservators to work slowly and meticulously as they treated the deteriorated state that the flag was in. The project itself was not one that was hard to “realize”, especially considering that the flag was gifted to the Smithsonian by Eben Appleton in 1912. Its prevalence to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and status as a national treasure made it a no-brainer for Smithonsian to create an exhibit around, although it has been imperative that the risks of public exposure are mitigated as they arise in order to preserve and protect the priceless relic.
Overall, this exhibit does a brilliant job at effectively displaying the information while also maintaining the attention and curiosity of the audience throughout the entire experience. The Flag is absolutely stunning and breathtaking, but I also appreciated the attention to detail that the entire exhibit exudes in an effort to thoroughly deliver information. The Smithsonian’s “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem” is an exhibit that I would recommend to anyone who has never been, and especially to those who seek to be inspired.