High-tech interactive exhibits that tell the story of the U.S. Marshals are planned in Fort Smith’s museum under active development.
The western frontier era is a featured star, with storytelling exhibits that incorporate campfire and saloon settings. But galleries designed by Thinkwell of Los Angeles intend to capture the full history of the U.S. Marshals Service from 1789 to present with all of the flair of a modern museum and still holding deep respect for a law institution that played pivotal roles in the nation’s history. Interactive exhibits will allow visitors to draw their own conclusion of episodes such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the Indian Removal Act, the Civil Rights Era, Ruby Ridge or the Goingsnake Massacre.
“Our central icon here is that the U.S. Marshals are about enforcing the Constitution and the rule of law,” Kate McConnell, senior creative director for Thinkwell, said Tuesday when speaking to the museum’s board of directors.
Logic puzzles that call for investigation with touch screens, or a magnifying glass, reactive projection books with images being thrown on the wall, and many other ways to tell the marshal’s stories are planned, McConnell explained.
Visitors to the museum will be provided answers to the questions being sought for certain incidents, but they might have to dig for them a little bit using interactive visual tools.
“We’re going to give you all the information we have, lay it out, and let people come to their own conclusions, and come to their own understandings of what it was,” McConnell said.
Thinkwell has been in steady contact with U.S. Marshals Service leadership in the design phase, McConnell said in response to a board member’s question. The design firm also works with motion picture studios like Warner Bros. and Lionsgate. Chuck Roberts, senior art director for Thinkwell, was on hand Tuesday to help describe a visual aspect of a space set up to resemble an old west saloon with poker tables.
Plans for a “Tactical Gallery,” showing tactics and training, will help tell the modern era, she added. Design plans for the Sam M. Sicard Hall of Honor have yet to be finalized.
“The U.S. Marhsals Museum is very excited about the progress,” said Patrick Weeks, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum. “Thinkwell has a level of storytelling that’s world class and exciting for guests.”
Roberts and Cynthia Sharpe, Thinkwell’s principal of Cultural Attractions and Research, also made a presentation to the museum board in June. Thinkwell has designed for museums, theme parks and studios that include the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, Disney, LEGO, “Harry Potter,” House of Blues, Sea World, “Sesame Street,” Nickelodeon, Super Bowl XXXVIII and a host of other major groups.
Weeks said the museum intends to spend between $8.5 million and $10.5 million on the design and production aspects. Thinkwell is phase contracted for the project. Weeks said he hopes to be able to use Thinkwell through the entire process because they also serve as a sort of general contractor to bring the exhibits to life.
“We only have one chance to do it right,” Weeks said.
The museum has about $19.7 million left remaining in its fundraising goal. Although momentum is there with pledges coming in, the attitude remains “cautiously optimistic” among the museum staff that they will get close.
“Cultivation efforts are coming to fruition, for multitude of reasons,” said Alice Alt, U.S. Marshals Museum vice president of production. “In Oklahoma and here in Arkansas, we’re reaching out to individuals and families. There will be a gap, likely, out of this $19.7 (million) we’ll have to obtain. We will have strategies put into place, but right now as my captain tells me, we are cautiously optimistic about reaching that 19.7.”
A Sept. 18 letter from Weeks to the board documents a $3 million loan with First National Bank of Fort Smith to hold mortgage on the 16.34 acre tract of land where the museum will be constructed.