On Tuesday, a couple days before its official birthday, the National Constitution Center welcomed thousands of adults and children with free admission. Some were first-comers, some were old-timers.
On July Fourth, the center celebrates its 10th anniversary, with its new CEO, one of the old-timers.
Jeffrey Rosen has been watching the Constitution Center since its opening in 2003 — he was there when a piece of the stage collapsed on top of Justice Sandra Day O’Conner and the invited honorees. A few years later, he watched as then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated during the presidential primaries, and then again as Obama, as a presidential candidate, delivered his “race” speech at the center.
Rosen’s involvement with the center goes way back.
“I was a visiting scholar here in 2006, and stood in the permanent exhibition space,” said Rosen. “Twice a day, like a vaudevillian, I would lead constitutional conversations with whoever was passing by.”
Rosen was named the CEO a month ago to lead the center into its next decade.
The first has been marked with successes and some failures. The recession took a financial toll, and some of the exhibitions designed to lure people into constitutional conversations were less than successful. The show about Bruce Springsteen, for instance, did not bring the expected revenue. Some staff was laid off.
Now, Rosen says, programming and finances are both healthy. He says he came at a fortunate time, just as the Supreme Court handed down landmark decisions about voting rights and marriage equality.
“Scholars associated with the Federalist Society — the conservative lawyers organization — and the American Constitution Society — the liberal lawyers organization — debated these decisions on our website and podcasts,” said Rosen. “I was so proud to bring these organizations together. They don’t talk to each other much, but the National Constitution Center is uniquely able to play that hosting role.”
Rosen says those discusssions will be the basis of a series of similar debates of the next three years on radio, web, TV, and live at the Constitution Center.
“It was a pilot experiment that worked extremely well,” he said.
This fall he will launch a series of on-stage interviews with Supreme Court justices, beginning with Ruth Bader Ginsberg in September.