As Rosalind Remer stated at the Seattle meeting of Public Historians in April, ``One of the most challenging issues facing the National Constitution Center's planning team is to produce a balance between serious current scholarship and an entertaining, emotional experience for museum visitors.''
Between scholarship and entertainment hangs a tightrope. Between the library, the lecture hall - and those buzzwords of the new museum world, innovation and interaction.
The public must remember that the National Constitution Center has a mandate from Congress in the Constitution Heritage Act of 1988. The organization has been charged with the daunting task of creating excitement around this extraordinary artifact, which is at once just a thin sheaf of papers, yet also the common ground that binds us together as a people.
At the same time, the center must fulfill educational obligations by creating programs and materials for the American public, especially the youth of the nation. These outreach programs will one day emanate from the National Constitution Center on the Mall.
Last week, in a stirring ceremony on Constitution Day, Sens. Robert Byrd (D., W. Va.) and Mark Hatfield (R., Ore.) received the center's first ``We the People'' award for their defense of the Constitution. To paraphrase Sen. Byrd, speaking at the ceremony, America could survive the wreck of almost any part of her civilization - except one: the principles set forth in the Constitution.
In the past four years, ceremonial signings of the Constitution and other patriotic and educational activities sponsored by the center have reached more than one million Americans.
At events held around the country during the just-concluded National Constitution Week, Sept. 17-23, citizens were reminded of the importance of the Constitution and its relevance to their daily lives as well as the promise of an exciting new experiential museum that they will soon be able to visit in Philadelphia.
A talented team has taken up the task of creating the museum script and designing programs for the public. Gordon Wood, chairman of the Brown University History Department, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, is the leader. He is joined by Richard Beeman, former chairman of the University of Pennsylvania History Department; James M. McPherson of Princeton, another Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; Michael Les Benedict, of Ohio State University; Joyce Appelby, of UCLA, the president-elect of the Organization of American Historians, and Jesse H. Choper, a law professor and former dean at the University of California School of Law, at Berkeley.
With its location on the second block recommended by the Park Service and the general management plan process almost completed, the National Constitution Center wants nothing more than to move to the next step - a master plan for Independence Mall.
At this stage, it's important to remember that the general management plan is not a master plan. Specific placement and relationship of buildings, their size, the problems posed by disruptive bus lanes across the Mall, the underground garage and other important details must and will be solved in the next phase of planning.
We strongly encourage the Pew Charitable Trusts to proceed with its plan for the first phase of the Mall's rebirth - a new gateway visitors center on the second block.
At the same time, continued development of the script for the museum, exhibit design and a much needed national fund-aising campaign are the next steps and immediate goals of the National Constitution Center.
The U.S. Constitution was and is the brilliant and compelling master plan for democracy. Its birthplace deserves no less than a brilliant, inspiring plan.
The National Constitution Center has targeted Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2000, for its opening - as America's project for the millennium - so that citizens of this nation and people from all over the world can come to celebrate and learn about constitutional democracy in Philadelphia, its birthplace.
Bob Brasler is president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.