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Philly museum using glass art to help crystallize concept of liberty

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A little-known museum in Philadelphia’s Old City is getting a facelift — both in its galleries and its mission.

The National Liberty Museum at Chestnut and Third streets is rethinking its approach as it strives to impart the meaning of liberty through an unusual mix of history, civic engagement, religion, portraits of heroism — and glass.

Founder Irvin Borowsky collects glass art.

The son of immigrants, Borowsky made a fortune publishing “TV Guide.” Known as a philanthriopist, Borowsky uses his collection of glass art to make the point that liberty is strong yet fragile.

“It’s a medium that we can see through, and yet it’s there,” he said. “It’s unique.”

Museum CEO Gwen Borowsky picked up her father’s theme, saying that liberty is invisible.

“It’s something most people don’t think about it — it’s like the air you breathe. You don’t notice it until it’s missing,” she said.

Gwen Borowsky says the museum was already outdated when it opened in 2001. After three years of planning, she’s started the overhaul by unveiling a new welcome gallery at street level.

Exhibitions describe four pillars of liberty — strength, fragility, opportunity and life. Each features a piece of glass art and audio, such as the voice of Abigail Adams, wife of Founding Father John Adams.

The welcome gallery is just the tip of the iceberg of changes.

Museum officials have created a curriculum for the city school district to teach character through civic projects. They also have a master plan to update all the museum exhibitions, including portraits of 2,000 people selected as heroes of liberty.

Borowsky said the overhaul of her father’s museum was overdue.

“It’s a seed he planted. For him, the son of immigrants, who really understood what it meant to live in this country … and feeling the next generation needed to appreciate that … that’s there. That’s not changing,” she explained. “But how we do it, the education programs, it’s evolved a lot.”

Borowsky said she hopes for more changes over the next five years, pending fundraising.

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