Zekelman Holocaust Center

The renovated US memorial museum delivers powerful survivor stories through the medium of print

The Brief

The Zekelman Holocaust Center (The HC), based in Michigan, USA, was founded in 1984. Its mission is to keep alive the testimony of local Holocaust victims in order that the terrible lessons of the past are not lost. Reaching more than 150,000 people a year through exhibits, guided tours and weekly “Survivor Talks”, the centre’s curators hope to be a beacon against hatred, antisemitism and genocide and to help shape a more tolerant, empathetic society. 

In May 2023, the centre embarked on a renovation of its core exhibit which had been in place since 2008. The primary goal of the refit was to elevate survivor stories even further. “As the population of survivors dwindles, most future visitors to The HC will not be able to meet a Holocaust survivor face-to-face and hear them speak. Our job is to give people an opportunity to connect with these individuals and their stories throughout time” explained Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO of The HC in a release. Gary Karp, President of the Board of Directors added “It’s our duty to make sure that we remain relevant to the forthcoming generation and to the generations beyond.” To these ends, The HC pledged to install “cutting-edge exhibit technology, design, lighting, and fabrication” to generate “interactive and carefully curated learning experiences”. The grand reopening of the core exhibit was scheduled to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of January 2024.

The leading US builder of museum experiences, D&P, was enlisted to spearhead the project. With extensive experience across a scope of heritage sectors, especially in the Human History space, D&P was perfectly placed to deliver a state-of-the-art exhibit. Its end-to-end services include project management, prefabrication consulting, exhibit engineering and detailing, prototyping, installation, commissioning and media and lighting systems, enabling it to craft a unique visitor experience for The HC that would be at once powerful and poignant. To provide an array of lightboxes and tension frames, D&P drew on a trusted relationship spanning back to 2020 and reached out to our specialist team.

 

The Solution

 

Initially, D&P approached two different US-based lightbox producers with a request for frames with a specialist black anodised finish, but after multiple rounds of sampling, both firms were unable to create the desired look. We take pride in our extensive colour-matching capabilities and as such were ready and able to meet the brief. We successfully produced architectural-grade black anodised lengths of aluminium for each frame which D&P’s client team described as “beautiful”.

Our team crafted 47 separate frames for the exhibit in total. Mostly these were backlit LED lightboxes but a number of frontlit tension frames were also manufactured with integrated acoustic baffling to eliminate reverberation in this peaceful, contemplative space. A wide scope of size requirements were accommodated for, with the largest frame produced measuring 10.5 metres wide by 1.2 metres high and the smallest at 1.2 metres wide by 1.7 metres high. The depths of each frame ranged from 110mm deep to a slimline 21mm deep. 

 

Destined for display across many different areas of the museum, some of the frames were designed for wall-mounting and others to be suspended. For the suspended lightbox installations, we created a custom hanging hardware system with black steel cables and black suspension fittings, in keeping with the frame finish and dark wallcoverings of the exhibit. Further lightboxes were affixed to triangular pylons with a frame positioned on each face, an eye-catching arrangement that allows visitors a moment of reflection as they walk between each display. Each set of three lightboxes was fitted with synchronised dimmable lighting controls which could be adjusted remotely by the centre’s lighting designer on demand. What’s more, every lightbox was supplied with a flexible lightsheet that could be compactly rolled up for shipping purposes, rather than the traditional rigid dibond LED backboards which would be too bulky for transit. 

To accompany each frame, we printed a silicone-edged fabric graphic displaying high-resolution imagery, quotes and informational text, all detailing the Jewish Holocaust experience. When a handful of copywriting edits were identified by The HC on delivery, our Delivery team expedited the reprint and shipping of replacement fabric graphics, which arrived in Michigan within 48 hours of the instruction. Should The HC wish to change any of the fabric graphics in the future, each can be easily swapped in-house without the need for professional installers.

Due to the early issues D&P encountered in finding a provider of black anodised frames, we had to work within a short timeframe to meet the project deadline. As such, production was batched and then the frames swiftly crated at Leach HQ before being express freighted to the USA, ready for installation by the D&P team.  

With the tension frames and lightboxes successfully sourced, D&P was able to focus on its turnkey end-to-end fit-out service for the rest of the exhibit. The team crafted and installed stunning glass display cases, informational interpretation panels, built-up 3D lettering, flooring, vinyl wallcoverings, lighting effects and audiovisual installations, creating a deeply powerful, sensory museum experience that charts Jewish life from the pre-WW11 period through to liberation and beyond.

Survivor Stories Immortalised

The renovated Zekelman Holocaust Center has succeeded in capturing the voices of Michigan’s Holocaust survivors, preserving their experiences in print, audio recordings and video testimony. As such, it has ensured this unique collection of survivor stories will remain for future generations to discover, understand and learn from. 

Reflecting on the completed project, Jamie Wilson, Graphics Project Manager at D&P said “You can see how beautiful everything looks… the clients were crying tears of joy. Thank you so much for all your hard work on everything.”

Tom Foster, Director of Project Management at Leach added “It was a privilege to be commissioned for such a profoundly important project. I’m pleased that we were able to meet the bespoke lightbox and tension frame needs of the exhibit and in the process assist the fantastic team at D&P to create such a high-quality fit-out.

If you’d like to visit the Zekelman Holocaust Center, you can find out more about its opening hours and admission fees here. If you’d like to visit Leach HQ for a factory tour and discover more about our specialist printing capabilities, contact our team today.  

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