Cynthia Jones, Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement, The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Cynthia Jones oversees operations at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan. Here, she shares details about the Museum’s surprising upcoming exhibit, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes.

People might be surprised to see a superhero exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum. How does Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes complement the museum’s mandate?

I certainly have heard that surprise on occasion. I think the exhibit goes incredibly well with our mandate and all the other exhibits we host. People assume we are just a car museum because of our name. While we do have an incredible automotive collection, we also explore American culture and innovation and we capture how that shifts over time. Our permanent exhibit, called “Your Place in Time”, captures this idea in a really interesting way and includes objects such as comic books to demonstrate culture and society in the 20th and 21st centuries. It isn’t a stretch for us to host the Marvel exhibit. They’ve been around for 80 years; that’s a lot of history and change to showcase.

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Who is the audience for this exhibit?

I love that you ask that question! I asked the same question to MoPOP – the curators of the Marvel exhibit – and they laughed and said “everyone!” When we ask the question, “Who do we want to talk to with this exhibit?”, the answer really is everyone: people who are deep into comic culture, casual fans of comics, moviegoers, families, those interested in set design and customs. 

In my role, I think about the power of the stories we tell each other. When done well, a museum exhibit can open the door to a conversation between generations. Grandmother, mother, and daughter can have a shared conversation about an object, a chance to tell each other stories about themselves or their times. I think that’s really special and important.

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Tell us about some of the elements that will greet visitors to the exhibit.

This is a really awesome exhibition. It’s very large at 10,000 square feet. Sometimes in exhibits that size there is some empty space, but that’s not the case here. It was challenging to layout because of the magnitude of the objects. The exhibit begins with a classic 1940s newsstand that takes visitors back to where comics were purchased at that time. It has a New York City street feel. There’s a short film that delves into the history of Marvel and why it’s such a phenomenon. Then the exhibit progresses from character to character with a custom soundtrack and lighting experience.

There are great social-share photo opportunities throughout the exhibit, including Tony Stark’s lab, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and The Hulk. One of the elements that people comment on most is Doctor Strange and the mirror dimension room. It can be a little disorienting, as it plays with angles. There are incredible projections and scenes that make it feel like you are immersed in that world. We use the hashtag #MarvelAtTHF on social media for people to share their experiences.

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What surprised you about the exhibit as it came together?

One of the biggest surprises came when we put out the press release. We are used to seeing and hearing “that’s interesting” when announcing our exhibits, but there were over 300 comments from people excited about the Marvel exhibit. To see that immediate popularity was awesome.

A fun surprise for me was to see the care that the original team and the previous hosts at the Franklin Institute expressed for the exhibit. Everyone we talked to who has worked on the exhibit cares deeply about it. It’s been fun to become part of the community of people who are hosting it and to hear their stories.

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What other special exhibits will the Museum host? 

Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes runs from March 28 to September 7, 2020. We have six weeks to take it down before we host Apollo: When We Went To The Moon, which opens in the Fall of 2020. In 2021, we’ll host a Tiffany Glass exhibit showcasing the history of art and design through these objects. It’s a stunning exhibit. Then in Summer 2021, we’ll have an exhibit dedicated to the work of Jim Henson, another significant figure in popular culture.

We suspect that Marvel will draw visitors from far away, people who might be on vacation in the area, or who come specifically for the exhibit. We’re looking forward to seeing people who are new to The Henry Ford Museum discover the massive range of our collections. I’m also excited to see individuals and families come to Dearborn and discover the area.

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Learn more about The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation on their website and be sure to watch their Emmy award-winning series Innovation Nation.