Tom Hanks’ 4-D Experience, family connections, The Pacific and national trends draw next generation
NEW ORLEANS (April 14, 2010) – Be the reason technology, family or frugality, people are flocking to The National World War II Museum in the resurgent Crescent City. Since the start of 2010, more than 100,000 visitors have trooped through the Museum’s six-acre campus to learn about the battles and motives behind the 20th-century’s most momentous event. In the process they are breaking all attendance records.
“Visitation’s been nothing short of jaw-dropping since the opening of our three newest attractions last November,” says Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Watson. “This March alone we set a single month record of 43,301 visitors – almost tripling the 16,713 visits recorded in March 2009 and besting our previous high of 41,000 set in 2001,”
On November 6, 2009, over 500 WWII veterans accompanied by active military joined celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Patricia Clarkson and Mickey Rooney to inaugurate the Solomon Victory Theater and Hanks’ 4-D cinematic experience Beyond All Boundaries; The Stage Door Canteen, recreating the entertainment found in the famous wartime venues; and The American Sector, a Chef John Besh restaurant inspired by classic American cuisine. The legendary newsman and author Tom Brokaw served as master of ceremonies and the event received extensive national attention.
Younger audiences in particular are enjoying the cutting-edge imagery displayed on the Solomon Victory Theater’s 120-feet wide immersive screen. Created and crafted with 21st-century technology, Beyond All Boundaries plunges viewers into the 20th-century’s most titanic struggle. The Museum brought in a national creative team to create a jaw-dropping experience in 4-D, a technique that engages all the audience’s senses with digital effects, life-sized props, animation, and atmospherics as well as film and sound. Audiences feel the tank treads rumbling across North Africa’s deserts, brush snow from their cheeks during the wintery Battle of the Bulge, and flinch as anti-aircraft fire tries to bring down their B-17 on a bombing run over Nazi Germany.
“Our strategy is to tell the tale of the war that changed the world in a way that gets a 12-year-old to turn off their iPod and pay attention,” said Watson.
And while the popularity of the new HBO miniseries The Pacific, has certainly contributed to the attendance boom, the Museum has discovered it is the personal connections that hit home.
“People are visiting us because they want to understand what their mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, went through,” Watson said. “It’s a way of honoring the generation that paid the price for our precious freedom.”
If familial ties up the Museum’s attendance figures, so does economics. Museums offer value for money, and in a recession they’re an affordable day out. Nationally, museum attendance was up 10 percent last year, Watson said, a reflection of skinnier wallets.
“Many people can enjoy a day filled with fun and learning at America’s museums for an affordable price,” he added.
Lastly, the Museum’s increased attendance is part of New Orleans’ recovery from the damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on this historic city. The Solomon Victory Theater and other attractions are the most significant addition to New Orleans’ cultural landscape since the storm, and as visitation to the Crescent City continues to climb, more and more people are exchanging their beads for dog tags to visit the Museum in its Warehouse District locale, just a short hop from the French Quarter.
“We’re now part of visitors’ ‘must see’ lists,” Watson says. “The Museum’s expansion is opening the eyes of many travelers to the cultural and educational opportunities New Orleans has to offer.”
Visitors’ curiosity will only grow in 2011 when the Museum debuts the next phase of its planned $300 million expansion, the Restoration Pavilion. The 14,000 square-foot facility will showcase Museum artifacts undergoing various levels of restoration, all in public view. It will be an opportunity to show off new acquisitions as well as educate about the process involved in caring for them. The first project will be an ongoing refurbishment of PT-305, a Higgins Industry PT-boat that served in the Mediterranean.
Coming additions include three major new buildings which will open in phases: The Campaigns Pavilion is dedicated to the greatest and some of the lesser-known battles, including Guadalcanal, the battle of the Bulge, and the Mediterranean. The Liberation Pavilion documents the Holocaust, POW camps, events surrounding the war’s closing months in 1945, and the return of freedom following liberation. The expansive United States Freedom Pavilion will cover all the service branches and will display additional land, sea and air major artifacts.
There is urgency to the Museum’s efforts. World War II veterans continue to die at the rate of 900 a day, according to figures from the Veterans Administration in Washington, DC.
“The National World War II Museum has a huge responsibility to pass the stories of the Greatest Generation on to the next generation,” said businessman Phil Satre, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. “Fewer and fewer people will have the privilege of hearing about the war directly from the men and women that lived it. Through the Museum’s program of recording their oral histories and cutting edge exhibits, we will preserve and present as much of their experience as possible to younger audiences.”
The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-527-6012 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIItoday or visit our Facebook fan page.