On November 21, 2008, a dramatic new gallery opened to display one of the Museum's most treasured icons-the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired our national anthem. Along with ensuring the long-term preservation of this cherished artifact, the exhibition presents the history of the flag and evoke its significance as a national symbol.
The new permanent exhibition represents the Smithsonian’s greatest effort to meet the dual challenge of preserving the Star-Spangled Banner and communicating its history and significance to visitors. Working with architects, engineers, and exhibition designers, the Museum has developed a plan that serves both artifact and audience equally well. The need for an enclosed display chamber to protect the flag also serves visitor interests by providing a close-up view of the entire flag in a dramatic and contemplative setting. The need to reduce light levels in the viewing area is served by long entry and exit corridors that also perform important interpretive functions—the entry corridor quickly sets up the basic story of the Star-Spangled Banner so visitors can fully appreciate the flag when they see it, and the exit corridor provides room to explore the flag’s history in more detail. The exhibition makes use of technology—such as lighting, ambient sound, video, and an interactive table with a virtual, life-size image of the flag—in ways that enhance and complement the visitor’s encounter with the real artifact rather than compete with it. Another new feature, a tactile panel with an outline of the flag and a full-sized star, offers access to the main experience of the exhibition—viewing the Star-Spangled Banner—for visitors who are vision-impaired.
Together, these exhibition elements comprise an entirely new way of seeing the Star-Spangled Banner, learning about its history, and appreciating its significance. At the same time, the exhibition establishes a permanent, safe environment for the flag so that the Museum can continue to display this historic artifact for generations to come. As a complement to the exhibition itself, new educational activities will build on efforts begun during the preservation project to bring the story of the Star-Spangled Banner to diverse audiences in the Museum and throughout the country.
To learn more about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner and the Smithsonian’s efforts to preserve this national treasure, visit the Star-Spangled Banner Web site.