Cover Story: A Historic Challenge
The challenge: to get people from around the country to invest in something that, at the time, was nothing more than a paper model and some flashy graphics. And the graphics were, indeed, flashy. Creative agency AEI Digital, whose offices overlook the NCC, took the blueprints for the museum and used video-game technology to create a 3-D “fly-through” of the center that put viewers right in the middle of the action.
Two months before the center celebrated its first anniversary on July 4, Seiter talked about the fundraising task with a sigh so visible it lifted her shoulders and shrouded her face with a look that incorporated pride, weariness and incredulity — almost as if she, herself, couldn’t believe what her team had,accomplished.
In the years between 1988 and 1996, the NCC worked primarily on spreading the word about the Constitution, providing programs and activities around the country and offering online lesson plans for teachers. It also presented the semi-annual We the People Award to “exemplary citizens.”
“We were creating a presence, and we did things to build our reputation as a source for constitutional information for teachers as well as the general public,” Seiter explains.
“But in 1996, then-Mayor Ed Rendell (now governor of Pennsylvania) came on as the chairman of the board of the National Constitution Center,” she adds. “Much of his administration was dedicated to the economy and creating cultural tourism, and he really began the effort to push for building the museum.”
Out there on its own
The original fundraising campaign, which began in 1988 and picked up speed with Rendell’s involvement, ended in March. The campaign goal was $185 million; the actual take: $185,000,216.
Of that, $108 million came from the federal government (U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Transportation), the state of Pennsylvania, the Delaware River Port Authority and the city of Philadelphia. The remaining $77,000,216 came from the private sector, Seiter says, stressing that the NCC is now a fully independent nonprofit organization. By prior agreement, once it opened on July 4, 2003, it lost all of its public funding except a small subsidy from the state tourism budget.