Visual Arts

Pop-up Museum Brings America’s Slavery to Freedom Stories to Life

Mercury One's new exhibit uses artifacts and augmented reality to immerse visitors in the most horrific parts of history.

Mercury One, a Christian humanitarian aid and education nonprofit founded by Glenn Beck, will present an immersive pop-up exhibition highlighting slavery and abolition in America, past and present, over the weekends of June 29 – 30 and July 4 – 7. 12 Score & 3 Years: The Unfinished Promise of Unity will host over 100 artifacts, including documents, photographs, historical objects, and five captivating augmented reality experiences. The exhibit was created in partnership with The African American Museum of Dallas, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Frontiers of Flight Museum, and Dallas Historical Society. Hoping to both challenge and inspire its viewers, 12 Score brings these relics to life and presents the facets of America’s story: the good, the bad, and the unthinkably ugly.

If you’ve ever visited Mercury Studios before, you’ll be surprised by its transformation. The long wide hallway becomes a tangible timeline of slavery and human trafficking in America. You may be tempted to believe this exhibition will be like others you’ve encountered; countless artifacts from our history that are fascinating though inaccessible, protected by glass from our curious grubby hands. 12 Score is not the average curated homage to bygone days, though. Mercury One aims to inform, yes, even more so, to immerse.

“We want this experience to be one when people walk through, it pulls at their emotions, it pulls at their heartstrings,” says Michael Little, Mercury One’s chief operating officer. “One thing that we are doing is working with a company that works with stages and movie productions. They are building us a portion of a slave ship. The specs are actually specs that we got off of drawings and designs from actual slave ships.”

The slave ship is the first thing the viewer will walk through. Sound fills the enclosed space: shouts, clanking chains, groans, the clash of waves. Little, acting as our tour guide, raises his voice to be heard over the audio. A musty odor clings to the air. The ship’s interior is dark, cramped. Claustrophobia begins to creep in. It’s hard to imagine fitting dozens of people in these confines, let alone the handful of us here right now. All of these elements–the noise, the smell, the darkness–are included to create an overwhelming feeling of discomfort.

Walk through the ship, and you will be greeted by one of those 2D diagrams mentioned before. Thought it was meant just for looking? Think again.

“Another element is augmented reality. We are partnering with a local company here in Dallas called Brazen Animation,” Little says. “We’ve identified five fairly significant artifacts that we have. These are artifacts that belong to Mercury One, so with the help of Brazen, we are going to bring these artifacts to life.”

Upon entering the studio, you’ll need to download the 12 Score & 3 Years Ago app. At five different locations throughout the exhibition, there will be markers with images depicting a different object or person. Essentially, you point your phone at the marker while using the app, and that object will be given virtual life. The slave ship marker generates a 3D modal of the ship occupied how it would have been three centuries ago. You can view the ship from different angles by walking around the marker like you would a physical object.

Other augmented reality experiences are a covered wagon, crab-style runaway shackles, Lincoln’s second inauguration, and a Barbary Powers Musket. Bryan Engram, CEO of Brazen Animations, says the virtual renderings of these artifacts were developed using the Unreal Engine used by videogame developers. This allows for seamless animation and user interactivity, as well as attention to detail.

“Generally, with artifacts, you’re not able to touch them, not able to hold them. With augmented reality, you are able to do that and really experience the story behind it,” Little says. “You’re able to pick up one of our muskets and you’re actually going to be able to hold this musket through augmented reality, and you’re going to be able to see the fine carvings on the musket, on the barrel of the gun.”

Sometimes jarring, always fascinating, this rare collection contains a variety of artifacts, some of which only see the light of day twice a year. The pop-up also includes a shop selling clothing, jewelry, bags, and crafts made by local African American artisans. General admission tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children, $15 for seniors.

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