The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrates its grand opening on August 23, unveiling exhibits and experiences designed to inspire the hero in visitors. The Freedom Center is housed in a new three-story building on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati. The building was designed by Blackburn Architects of Indianapolis in cooperation with BOORA Architects of Portland, Oregon.

Jack Rouse Associates (JRA) designed and produced the guest experience for the institution, which is dedicated to fostering safe, open and honest dialogue on issues of freedom both locally and internationally. JRA’s scope included story line development, exhibits, interactives, and multimedia pieces such as an environmental theater and an opening film that communicates the Center’s themes using animation by international artists.

There are interactive displays throughout the Freedom Center

The Center chronicles one of the most painful episodes in the United States’ history while celebrating the courage and perseverance of those who aided escaping slaves by creating the network of “conductors” known as the Underground Railroad. But the Freedom Center is not simply a museum or a history lesson. It is an experience that challenges visitors of all races, ages, and backgrounds to think about what freedom means in their lives today, to discuss those concepts with others, and to take action if they feel so moved.

The Freedom Center’s exhibits and programs are like no other. With a focus on experiential learning over artifacts, the Center is on the leading edge of a new generation of cultural centers. The Center’s approach arose from a recognition that presenting sensitive and polarizing subjects to diverse audiences would require a fresh strategy. To retain relevance and audience appeal, its story needed to have meaning today, and tomorrow.

“We saw an opportunity for the Freedom Center to suggest that there are current issues of freedom and unfreedom that involve you and are worth your stepping forward and doing something, like the people on the Underground Railroad did,” says Bob Harness, JRA’s Vice President for Creative. “By and large, conductors on the Underground Railroad were average people, just like you and me.”

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s story is based on the perpetual struggle between those who would enslave or repress and those who would be free. As visitors make their way through the Freedom Center, they encounter exhibits, media pieces and thought-provoking activities that position stories about the Underground Railroad as examples of courage, perseverance and interracial cooperation in support of freedom.

For example, the Brothers of the Borderland exhibit is an environmental theatre experience that gives visitors a visceral appreciation of the courage and cooperation exhibited by those who helped escaping slaves. Through the magic of technology and high definition film; visitors are literally there during a heart-pounding escape from slavery.

The Brothers of the Borderland Theatre experience

In the months leading to its opening, the Freedom Center has attracted a great deal of attention from scholars, museum professionals and the local and national community. A number of events and programs are planned for the Center’s grand opening and beyond. For more information, please visit