Thinkwell talks with U.S. Marshals Museum

With plans to begin site and facility construction work in spring 2018 after a $17 million cost savings was realized from plan augmentations and new ground samples, the museum’s board of directors is being exposed to next level of museum building — artists. The 2016 estimate of site and facility work was $33.5 million. It is now $16.5 million, thanks to resigns and no expected need to dig out 16 feet of “unsuitable soil.”

The entire budget for the 50,000-square-foot museum’s construction and interior is $58.6 million. Completion is expected in September 2019.

Thinkwell: The Experience Co., a Los Angeles-based design house with offices in Bejing and Abu Dhabi, made a presentation [in June] to the U.S. Marshals Museum Board of Directors that prompted a motion to approve the board’s executive committee ability to negotiate a deal.

“In the last year, we’ve talked about ‘experience,’ about how we don’t really need to use the word ‘exhibits,’ because ‘exhibits’ makes you think of things under glass without storytelling,” U.S. Marshals Museum President and CEO Patrick Weeks told the board. “We get to do this once, and we need to do it right.”

Thinkwell Senior Art Director Chuck Roberts and Cynthia Sharpe, Thinkwell’s principal of Cultural Attractions and Research, have worked with Weeks on other projects in his “sordid past,” he joked. Roberts was the head designer on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and Sharpe is “one of the smartest people I know in the museum business when it comes to content and what’s good and what really isn’t,” Weeks said.

“I’ve known Thinkwell for a long time. I’ve never worked for them, and I’ve never actually hired Thinkwell for my projects, but they got the right people right now, and the right experience right now,” Weeks told the board.

Thinkwell has designed “innovative and dynamic experiences” for museums, theme parks and studios that include the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, Disney, LEGO, Harry Potter, Saturday Night Live, House of Blues, Sea World, Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, Super Bowl XXXVIII, and a host of other brands.

After giving the board an overview of their company history (founded in 2001), projects and philosophy, Sharpe and Roberts answered questions from board members that included one from Judge Jim Spears on how the designers envisioned the museum’s entrance.

“Those really story-rich, pivot moments in the history of the marshals that are the sort of ‘grab somebody by the front of the shirt’ moments,” Sharpe said. “As opposed to leading with something that is simply presentation of facts. … Once you get them in, and get them hooked, you can work in more of the historical fact and figure content.

Sharpe also said she wants to figure out the “key story leads” and have one right up front, and then deepen the story. She advised a “mix of artifact and immersion.”

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