New exhibit coming of age for Exploris

Terror motif aims at older audience

Staff WriterJune 17, 2005 

Exploris is not just for kids anymore.

Conceived as a place to teach young children about the world, the downtown Raleigh museum hopes its next major exhibit will attract an older audience. In time for the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in 2006, the museum will have a special exhibit on the history of domestic terrorism.

The exhibit, created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, will even carry something of a PG-13 rating.

Artifacts include a piece of a plane that hit the World Trade Center, the robe of a Ku Klux Klan leader and a revolver similar to the one used to assassinate President McKinley in 1901.

"It's clearly an exhibit for adults or older children," interim director Bonnie Hancock said.

The board of directors discussed whether the exhibit was appropriate for Exploris, which markets itself for all ages but attracts many groups of schoolchildren from fourth grade through eighth grade.

Bill Johnson, chairman of the board, said it decided that "The Enemy Within" would help bring in a much different crowd, including more adults without children and parents of older teenagers.

"We're reaching out," he said.

Children are not likely to wander into the exhibit accidentally.

Exploris plans to put it in Venture Hall, a 4,000-square-foot space next to the museum's IMAX theater and away from the main entrance. Visitors will need to buy a separate ticket.

Hancock said the museum also intends to warn parents in advertisements and at the door about the content.

The exhibit could be a big draw for the museum, which has struggled to find a blockbuster since it opened in 1999. Its first attempt, a well-regarded exhibit on Chinese artisans in 2004, didn't lure the expected crowds.

It is hard to predict how "The Enemy Within" will fare because it has not yet been on the road.

The exhibit opened at the International Spy Museum in May 2004 and will close by the end of this summer. A museum spokeswoman estimated that several hundred thousand people will have seen it by then.

Already, a dozen venues -- including presidential libraries and museums of history and science -- have expressed interest, but only Exploris has made the $25,000 down payment. The money came from a donation by the Progress Energy Foundation.

The exhibit will cost about $150,000, but the museum's staff estimated it will need to raise at least $650,000 from private donors and corporate sponsors to hire extra employees and pay for marketing and other costs.

Despite its early booking, Exploris probably will be the second or third venue to host the exhibit. Museum officials hope to bring "The Enemy Within" to Raleigh by early September 2006.

The exhibit focuses on more than 100 acts of terrorism in the United States, ranging from British soldiers burning the White House during the War of 1812 to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

On its Web site, the International Spy Museum cautions parents that the exhibit's "frightening topic" might make it too intense for children under age 12.

Ann McColl, a law professor who lives in Raleigh, missed that warning before she took her two pre-teen sons to the spy museum during a vacation in January.

McColl, interviewed at Exploris, said she was surprised by some of the graphic images in "The Enemy Within" and wished she had been able to talk to her sons about them beforehand.

Her son David Cain, who is 11, said some of the photographs and videos were a little scary, but he was most shaken up by a child-size Klan robe that was on display.

"That was like, 'Whoa,' " he said.

McColl said the exhibit was worthwhile.

"I would still take them to it," she said. "It's important to look at terrorism in an environment that is educational and not simply engendering fear."

Staff writer Ryan Teague Beckwith can be reached at 836-4944 or rbeckwit@newsobserver.com.

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