One of the biggest news stories to come out of the Thea Awards ceremony in Anaheim actually came out of New York. Family members of some of the firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center were up in arms that the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum was receiving an award from the Themed Entertainment Association. You read that right – Entertainment. And this award for entertainment design was being handed out at, of all places, Disneyland! How on earth, these folks argued, could a solemn memorial on hallowed ground be awarded for entertainment unless it’s actually a big amusement entertainment attraction and not a serious memorial and museum?
It’s important to note that the folks complaining were either detractors or on the fence about the museum to begin with. When people are passionate about their cause, they often overlook the obvious, either because they don’t know to look or they don’t care to.
In the past, the TEA has recognized the places that honor America’s servicemen, who protect our freedoms, with its Thea Award – the National WWII Museum, and the museums of the Marine Corps and the Army Infantry. It has celebrated patriotism with awards to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the National Constitution Center. It has memorialized another great tragedy by awarding three different exhibits on the Titanic. And most importantly, just out of site beyond the blinders worn by these family members of lost fire fighters, is the Thea Award handed to FDNY Fire Zone in 2002. All of the proceeds from the Fire Zone and its store go to the FDNY Foundation, and some of those funds go to leadership and professional development education for the city’s fire fighters utilizing lessons and strategies developed in the wake of 9/11. Other funds go to counseling programs for fire fighters and their families.
Is the term “themed entertainment” archaic? I could argue that just about everything is themed to one degree or another these days. And, especially in a museum, it’s important to install some facet of entertainment into exhibit design to maintain engagement, be it through interactivity or catchy graphics, when most visitors are now connected online through a portable device. Perhaps it’s time to drop “entertainment” from the TEA name. With new technologies and out-of-the-box approaches to projects, the industry has entered a phase of experiential design. It’s no longer enough to have a designed exterior and a designed interior. Everything now is encompassing and emotionally engaging. Perhaps “Themed Experience Association?” You can contact my trademark attorneys.
It’s important to remember that the artistic skills in a number of fields that began in entertainment migrated to the design of educational institutions. The same people the apply their skill sets to one apply them to the other. If it were not for the inclusion of these skills garnered in the entertainment industry, the 9/11 museum would use antiquated display methods and look like something out of the 1950’s. Entertainment design has transformed museums into institutions that engage their visitors through the senses and create an emotional link between the museum’s message and the visitor. Passivity is a thing of the past.
Some of the family members brought up the fact that Harry Potter attractions were awarded along with the museum. It’s important to note that many of the same design firms that worked on those Harry Potter attractions also offered their services to the 9/11 Museum. And yes, the event took place at Disneyland. With “it’s a small world” receiving an award as a classic attraction, and everyone knowing where the Disneyland hotel is, it’s much easier than having to give them travel instructions to Stavanger, Norway (look for the tractor with the human eyes – he received a Thea too).