Nothing like a smooth-sailing ferry ride to get a sunny autumn day started.
On Thursday morning, Diane von Furstenberg, husband Barry Diller and assorted friends and family boarded the Miss Ellis Island ferry out of Battery Park’s Statue Cruises Terminal and headed to Liberty Island in New York Harbor for an official unveiling of plans for a new Statue of Liberty Museum there.
Von Furstenberg — who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Belgium and achieved an American dream of her own — was named the chair of the museum’s fund-raising campaign, which seeks to raise $100 million. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc., along with the National Park Service and Phelps Construction Group, will build the new $70 million museum, a 26,000-square-foot space designed by architectural firm FXFOWLE. (The current museum, located inside the Statue of Liberty monument, is only accessible to select visitors due to safety upgrades put in place following the 9/11 attacks.)
As the official “godmother” of the new chapter in Lady Liberty’s history, von Furstenberg also conceived a mural for the museum’s entrance inspired by the American flag. The mural will contain 50 stars crafted from hand-forged iron bars created by engineer Gustave Eiffel, which were removed and preserved during the Statue of Liberty’s 1986 restoration. Once open, the spacious new museum will allow for expanded artifacts and exhibitions conceived by Edwin Schlossberg and ESI Design on the history and legacy of the monument.
Von Furstenberg admitted that she initially hesitated when she was asked to get involved with the project. “I did not need yet another project. My husband could divorce me,” she said. “But then I read this wonderful book, ‘Liberty’s Torch’ [by Elizabeth Mitchell], and I learned the incredible story of the Statue and the passion of the people who, throughout history, helped her to exist. The more I realized that, the more I realized that it was an honor to be asked to be here. Indeed, Lady Liberty is the symbol of everything America is about: freedom, hope, possibility and resilience.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand for the ceremony and offered a series of thanks to Stephen Briganti, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation’s president and chief executive officer, as well as von Furstenberg. “I will start by saying that I don’t know a lot of people who say no to Diane von Furstenberg. I do not advise it,” he said. “If she comes asking you to help a good cause, it might just be simpler to say yes and be very generous.”
The mayor also noted that the new museum, which is projected to open to the public in 2019, will arrive at a crucial time in America’s political climate.
“I don’t need to overanalyze or say anything too pointed, but we’re still trying to figure out who we are in this country, and we’re still trying to figure out what immigration means to us,” de Blasio said. “What is lacking in the discussion is some really clear historical grounding…. My hope for this great museum is that it will be one of those bridges that helps us to finally come to peace with the fullness and the complexity and the beauty of who we are. That will be a long road, but places like this are what’s going to allow us to find that deeper truth.”