By Reva Gupta
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States Diplomacy Center would now be known as the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) at a fundraiser hosted by the Diplomacy Center Foundation, Nov. 5. Pompeo called NMAD, “the nation’s first and foremost museum dedicated to telling the story of American diplomacy.”
NMAD is the first museum to give visitors unprecedented access to the untold stories of how diplomacy has been and continues to be instrumental to our nation’s success. The museum is funded through a public-private partnership with the Diplomacy Center Foundation. Phase one of the capital campaign raised $50 million to construct the pavilion building adjacent to the Department of State’s 21st Street entrance. Phase two of the campaign commenced in January 2019, with a goal of raising $36 million to complete the construction and design of the entire 40,000-square-foot museum.
Nov. 5 also marked the opening of a new temporary NMAD exhibit titled “Diplomacy Is Our Mission” and a permanent exhibit on the Berlin Wall. Created in partnership with Smithsonian Exhibits, “Diplomacy Is Our Mission” offers visitors a glimpse into the experience that NMAD will offer when the museum is fully completed. This exhibit, which will remain in place until the museum opens fully at the end of 2022, helps visitors discover how Department employees work to protect the American people and U.S. interests abroad. By focusing on security, prosperity, development, and democracy, visitors will learn about areas of diplomacy crucial to our global leadership.
One story featured in the exhibit is that of Joe and Kathleen Stafford, who escaped Iran as part of the “Canadian Six” in the operation made famous in the 2012 feature film “Argo.” The Staffords were just starting their careers with the Department when they arrived at Embassy Tehran in September 1979. Iranian student protesters breached the embassy’s security perimeter and took 63 Americans hostage, Nov. 4, 1979. The Staffords and four others escaped. In the initial days following the embassy’s seizure, the six Americans went from house to house in hiding, fearing being found and taken hostage. Artifacts from the successful rescue operation are now showcased in the permanent NMAD collection.
NMAD’s permanent exhibit, “The Berlin Wall,” coincided with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Visitors of this exhibit can see a timeline of events from World War II, through German reunification that traces the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, and explores the role that American diplomacy played throughout the period. The exhibit features the Signature Segment of the Berlin Wall, which bears the signatures of major world leaders such as former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, all of whom played a significant diplomatic role in the fall of the wall and the end of the Cold War.
“The Berlin Wall” exhibit also features an innovative, digital, in-museum guide called the Museum of American Diplomacy Eye, or MADI. Originally developed by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and adapted for NMAD, the MADI platform is a state-of-the-art, award-winning museum guide that allows visitors to use their own cell phones or tablets to scan exhibits and artifacts, instantly unlocking additional content like original videos and historic news footage that helps bring the exhibit to life. NMAD intends to incorporate MADI into all of its future exhibits.
NMAD is already home to more than 9,000 artifacts that help tell the story of American diplomacy. Significant artifacts include a sweat-stained blindfold that former Foreign Service Officer and Iran hostage Robert Blucker wore during his 444-day captivity at Embassy Tehran. More recently, NMAD accepted a donation of the set and other props from the popular CBS television series “Madam Secretary.” The collection also includes gifts that secretaries of state received from their foreign counterparts, a contemporary printing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, artifacts representing sports and cultural diplomacy, and condolence materials left at our embassies following the September 11th attacks.
NMAD maintains an active education program for school groups and teachers, including the popular Diplomacy Simulation program. This program allows students to practice diplomacy hands-on through simulated negotiations around weighty topics such as nuclear nonproliferation, HIV/AIDS prevention, and more. In July 2019, NMAD partnered with the Diplomatic Reception Rooms to host 25 teachers for a week-long institute during which they created original lesson plans to engage students in the topic of diplomacy.
NMAD also maintains an active calendar of public programs, including panel discussions, film screenings, and “Diplomacy After Hours” evening events, for people to learn about the impact of diplomacy and ways in which it is practiced. In 2019, the museum hosted an array of events, including a panel discussion on “African American Trailblazers in Diplomacy,” a “Space Diplomacy: Apollo 11” panel discussion with astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and a celebration and exhibit marking the Department of State’s 230th birthday.
Department staff and their guests are welcome to explore the museum during normal business hours. The general public is welcome to experience the museum through free, timed passes on Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The free passes are available at https://diplomacy.state.gov/ticketing. Please visit https://diplomacy.state.gov/connect-with-us to sign up for notices of public programs and the NMAD newsletter.
Reva Gupta is a public affairs officer in the Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Office at the National Museum of American Diplomacy.