By Agence France-Presse
THE STATUE of Liberty, which has welcomed generations of immigrants to US shores, has just launched a new museum at a time when immigration is an explosive topic.
The museum, which is located near the base of “Lady Liberty” in New York harbour, opened on Thursday.
Construction of the 2,400-square-metre glass-walled structure fringed with copper began in October 2016.
From the rooftop of the new building, visitors have a sweeping view of the harbour, like “on the prow of a ship, says project designer Cameron Ringness.
A refurbished version of the original Statue of Liberty torch is on display during a tour of the new Statue of Liberty Museum in New York City. /AFP
“You get to climb up and you have these amazing views and a new perspective of the statue and the harbour,” Ringness adds.
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the United States, greeting some 4.5 million people a year from around the world.
Entry to the museum is included in the price of the ticket for the ferry that takes visitors to Liberty Island from Manhattan.
The centrepiece of the museum is Lady Liberty’s imposing original torch, which was replaced with a new one in 1986.
Exhibits and videos trace the history of the iconic monument designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and given as a gift to the United States to mark the 100th anniversary of US independence in 1876.
Multimedia presentations allow visitors to explore the values associated with the statue.
“It stands for different things for different people,” says Stephen Briganti, president and chief executive of the foundation which runs the new museum and the one devoted to immigration on nearby Ellis Island.
“But it still stands for good things: democracy, freedom, liberty, inclusion,” Briganti adds. “It stands for all those things and so many more.”
The opening of the museum comes amid a crackdown on illegal immigration by President Donald Trump, who has also slashed the numbers of refugees accepted by the United States.
A full-scale copper model of the Statue of Liberty’s foot, created in 1986./AFP
“It’s a good moment for this museum to open, to talk about immigration, to talk about freedom, to talk about the respect between countries,” says Edwin Schlossberg, president and principal designer of ESA Design, which built the exhibitions.
“Sometimes one people’s liberty is another person’s problem.
“We wanted to convey this amazing concept of liberty but also convey the idea that it belongs to each of us – and that we have to understand that everyone is seeing it slightly differently.”
“The balance shifts between the voices of rationality and the voices of irrationality. We are going through an irrational period,” he adds.
The Statue of Liberty itself has become a political football in the immigration debate.
When Trump shut down the government in December and January after Democratic lawmakers refused to provide funding for his US-Mexico border wall, New York state – whose governor is a Democrat – paid federal employees to keep the statue open.