The suffrage-themed displays represent a significantly diminished footprint for the long-struggling museum of journalism, which last year sold its building, laid off 88 employees and moved the remaining staff of about 40 to New Jersey Avenue NW.
While on a small scale, these partnerships illustrate how the Newseum plans to emerge from its downsizing to deliver programs that celebrate the importance of the First Amendment.
“We are thinking of ways to amplify our mission overall. Not everybody is a museum-goer,” said Newseum Executive Director Carrie Christoffersen. “We are happy to meet people where they are, happy to help them understand the First Amendment.”
The future of the splashy Newseum — which opened in 2008 and drew about 10 million visitors over 11 years — has been a mystery since January 2019, when the Freedom Forum, the private foundation that created the Newseum and is its primary funder, announced it would sell its building to Johns Hopkins University for $375 million. The museum remained open through 2019.
The partnerships with the Hamilton Hotel and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority began last year as satellite offerings intended to draw attention to the Newseum and its downtown site. The exhibit “First Amendment Freedoms: Women Win the Vote” opens Friday at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, replacing displays focused on the fall of the Berlin Wall. The exhibits will remain on view through the fall.
“The suffrage exhibit examines all the ways people used their First Amendment rights, exercised their First Amendment muscles in the fight for the vote,” Christoffersen said. “We wouldn’t see the 19th Amendment without the First.”
The suite at the Hamilton Hotel opens March 12 with artifacts from the Newseum and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. Curated by Samantha Barry, editor in chief of Glamour, the 12th-floor exhibit will feature a pioneering women’s rights newspaper, a 1916 poster making the case for suffrage and a portrait of the four women who have served as U.S. Supreme Court justices, among other items. The suite can be booked starting Sunday.
To mark the suite’s debut, the Freedom Forum will host a conversation March 12 between Barry and Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama who is a distinguished fellow at the University of Chicago Law School and chairwoman of the board of When We All Vote, a civic organization working to increase participation in elections. The event, “Women’s Leadership on the Political Stage,” will be held at the new offices of the Newseum and Freedom Forum at 300 New Jersey Ave. NW.
As they look ahead, Newseum officials note that five exhibits, including ones focused on gay rights, the political influence of rock-and-roll, and prizewinning photography, continue to tour the country, keeping the Newseum brand in the public eye.
Another airport exhibit is planned for the fall, Christoffersen said, although the topic has not been determined. In the meantime, officials are willing to loan pieces of its collection to “institutions whose criteria meet lending guidelines,” according to its website.
The Newseum’s transition period, Christoffersen said, will last a few years.
“We are looking at opportunities to move in a wider, or different circle, with different potential audiences. Does it make sense to have a single spot, or does it make sense to go out to a wide variety of communities?” she said. “We hope people will come to the suite, go visit the airports, attend the programs as we have them, keep following us on social — all those places.”