About the Museum
American publisher and philanthropist Irvin J. Borowsky founded the National Liberty Museum in 1995.
It was a labor of love borne out of his commitment to help others and a desire to make the world a more peaceful place.
The result is a one-of-a-kind institution that has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Irvin J. Borowsky was a successful publisher, having founded and operated the North American Publishing Company in Philadelphia. While running his business, he became interested in interfaith relationships, seeing the need to build bridges of understanding between Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews. As he learned more about different religions, he realized that people of faith have far more in common than they have differences. Upon retiring from NAPCO, Mr. Borowsky chose not to spend his time on leisure activities, but instead dedicated his life to building bridges of understanding between diverse people. He established an organization called the American Interfaith Institute and used his communication and marketing skills to solicit the help of prominent theologians and scholars who share his vision. Since its founding 25 years ago, the Institute has published dozens of books and newsletters, and conducted seminars around the world to encourage professors, seminary students, religious publishers, and members of the clergy to respect the religious teachings of others.
During this time, Mr. Borowsky's daughter, Gwen Borowsky, also became involved in anti-violence work through her job as an educator. She taught children of many ages, including girls placed in residential treatment as an alternative to facing legal proceedings for their infractions. Realizing that character education was a subject sorely lacking in America's schools, Gwen founded the Liberty Education Center in 1990 to educate teachers on subjects not typically taught in America's colleges and universities. Operating from the campus of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Ms. Borowsky invited teachers from the metropolitan area as far north as Reading and far south as Cape May County, NJ to attend workshops on issues ranging from bullying and conflict resolution to diversity and character education. Through the help of guest speakers in related fields, she showed teachers how to incorporate these topics in their classrooms, while continuing to meet school curriculum standards. The program ran successfully for many years, until the Liberty Education Center advanced to its next phase.
In 1995, Mr. Borowsky learned that the building housing the Maritime Museum at 321 Chestnut St. was going on the market. As neither the American Interfaith Institute or the Liberty Education Center had a permanent "home," this seemed like the perfect place to put down roots.
Now came the challenge of how exactly to use the building. Their ultimate goal was to create a facility that would be of interest to the millions of people who visit historic Philadelphia each year. But... creating three-dimensional exhibits from abstract ideas such as "interfaith relations" and "peaceful conflict resolution" is no small undertaking. The father-daughter team worked with hundreds of people, including historians, educators, students, museum designers and fabricators. They also had to gather support for their mission and raise money from community and business leaders. Many supporters and board members visited the new "Liberty Museum" while it was still a construction site with only paper signs on the walls representing future exhibits.
A break-through idea for their Museum occurred not long after the Borowskys had settled into their new home. Mr. Borowsky, an avid glass art collector for many years, invited noted glass artist and good friend Dale Chihuly to visit the building. Chihuly offered to create a special "Flame of Liberty" for the Museum –for just the cost of his out-of-pocket-expenses– if they would agree to cut a hole in the ceiling so it could extend through two floors. Although there was no formal plan to use glass sculpture at that time (and the original Museum designer was opposed to it), incorporating art became a central theme from that moment forward.
It took five years to raise the funds and complete the project, but the end result exceeded all expectations. When they opened the doors in January 2000, the National Liberty Museum housed eight galleries of art and exhibits, which some have described as the "Best museum they have ever visited."
Over the years, the Borowskys added new exhibitions and art, including a three story tribute to the Heroes of 9/11 and a DNA room which traces the commonalities of all humankind. Most important, more than 500,000 visitors have walked through the doors and shared their vision of a more peaceful world.