Film props and iconic pop-culture artifacts have drawn audiences to exhibits for years, but some area museums are going a step further, linking collections with new movie releases to tell real-life stories or capitalize on audience interest.
The Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, the Newseum and the International Spy Museum have each teamed with Hollywood producers to showcase artifacts or themes from recently released movies — a trend academics say could be a win-win for everyone.
“I think it’s a really good plan for museums in terms of reaching out and relating to the public,” said John Douglass, associate professor of communication at American University. “It lets people look below the surface and see that some of this is real and relates to real stories.”
For some films, the connections are obvious. The National Gallery of Art for decades held in its archives historical artifacts related to World War II soldiers who were committed to rescuing European art from Nazi looters. So when 20th Century Fox brought the subject to the big screen in February with the George Clooney film “Monuments Men,” museum officials saw an opportunity. The gallery opened an exhibit on Feb. 11 that displayed photos and documents related to the people and events that inspired the film.
“Our vision is for people to go to the movie, have their eyes opened to something new, then, hopefully, a few will come here,” Chief of Gallery Archives Maygene Daniels said.
Ms. Daniels said that the real Monuments Men story received less attention over time, but the artifacts have been in the museum archives available to researchers since 1942. She said the exhibit helps to correct a few liberties the film’s writers took with history — there were over 130 monuments men, whereas in the film there were only eight. There were also a few monuments women involved.
“We see it as a teaching opportunity to show people it’s real, and it’s history,” she said.
Other exhibits rely on a film’s popularity to attract new visitors.
Such displays aren’t exactly new. Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” are a must-see on hot summer days for many tourists visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. And the 50-year-old original studio model of the starship Enterprise from the 1960s TV series “Star Trek” hangs in the basement at the Air and Space Museum.
But usually such items are displayed because they have achieved an iconic status in popular culture.
The Newseum exhibit team worked closely with Paramount Pictures well before the December release of Anchorman 2 to create “Anchorman: The Exhibit,” which opened a month before the film.
“We started working on it in early 2013. So it was almost a year before it opened on Nov. 14, 2013,” Mr. Thompson said.
The Anchorman exhibit was the first temporary exhibit the Newseum put together featuring a popular film. The exhibit is based on a comedy film, so it is naturally a lighter and entertaining experience for museumgoers.
“There are lots of serious exhibits in the Newseum,like the Pulitzer Prize photo wall and the 9/11 exhibit. When we open something like Anchorman, it allows our visitors see the lighter side of news,” Newseum spokesman Jonathan Thompson said. “It’s a balance.”
Mr. Thompson said the Anchorman exhibit also features serious elements, highlighting discrimination in the newsroom, especially towards women.