- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Irwin Borowsky calls it the only museum in the world dedicated to defusing violence through the use of art.

It's the National Liberty Museum, which sits in the old Maritime Museum building in downtown Philadelphia, close to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The museum opened last year after several years of renovation work in the five-story building and since then has been well-received, according to Mr. Borowsky's daughter, Gwen, who helped her father start the museum and serves as its executive director.

"It was a very organic process, working with the museum designers and getting it started from the ground up," Ms. Borowsky says. "It was a lot of work, but every bit of it was worth it. The Maritime Museum got a better building location down by the water, so we were happy to take this building."

Mr. Borowsky has served as president of the American Interfaith Institute, a nonprofit organization that builds relationships between different religious faiths. Ms. Borowsky's background was in education and teaching. As director of the nonprofit Liberty Education Center in Philadelphia, she worked with educators to help handle issues such as violence and prejudice reduction.

The National Liberty Museum, she says, was simply a way for her and her father to "go from wholesale to retail" with their causes and interests.

"Both of us had been doing outreach work into the community through nonprofit organizations, so this was a natural extension of that," she says. "It was taking those things and bringing them more to the public."

The artwork and artifacts in the museum all build on the idea of turning an abstract idea, such as conflict resolution, democracy or freedom, into a 3-D piece of art while helping children appreciate the liberty they often take for granted in the United States.

To help reinforce that concept, many of the 93 works of art in the museum are made of glass, showing the beauty of democracy but also its fragility.

"We worked with a lot of professors, historians and writers, basically constantly asking questions and testing ideas we had," Ms. Borowsky says. "One of the things that seemed very effective for us and very unique was using glass. It was such a strong metaphor for what we were taking about."

Many of the museum's artworks came from Mr. Borowsky's private collection. Ms. Borowsky says her father has developed contacts with artists around the world through his work, and many of them wanted to create pieces for the museum once they learned about it.

The museum includes a "Let Freedom Ring" gallery where guests can learn about America's 19 Nobel Peace Prize winners and see the Freedom of Speech Room, highlighted by a mechanical tightrope walker that reminds visitors that democracy is a delicate balance between rights and responsibilities.

The nation's religious heritage is represented by biblical figures, including Noah and Jesus, who helped inspire our Founding Fathers. There also are 12 stained-glass windows that trace the roots of our democracy to the heroes of the Bible.

The museum recognizes America's cultural and ethnic diversity with a tribute to more than 40 men and women from around the world who risked their lives to defend the principles of freedom.

With violence once again entering the headlines in the wake of two recent school shootings, Ms. Borowsky says the museum's exhibits on conflict resolution and tolerance have served as important discussion points for visiting school groups.

A jelly-bean exhibit shows visitors we're all the same on the inside, a 6-foot green pyramid illustrates the three sides of every conflict (your side, my side and our side), and a symmetrical glass sculpture with the simple title "Harmony" represents the essence of the ideal society in artist George Bucquet's eyes.

"There's a lot for kids to talk about when they come here," Ms. Borowsky says. "That's what we're striving for, something they can go back to their classrooms and talk about."

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