Philadelphia Is Getting a Peace Museum

The Envision Peace Museum looks to debut in 2014.

In honor of the International Day of Peace (what, you didn’t know?), this seems like an appropriate time to tell you that plans are well underway to open the Envision Peace Museum in Philadelphia in 2014.

If this is the first you’ve heard of the Envision Peace Museum, you’re not alone. Although the museum has been in the works for several years and has an advisory board that includes Philadelphia Commerce Director Alan Greenberger, sustainable food guru and White Dog Cafe founder Judy Wicks, ice cream magnate Ben Cohen (as in Ben & Jerry’s), and a bunch of people who are really important in the world of peace and justice but whose names are not exactly of the household variety (Johan “Father of Peace and Conflict Studies” Galtung… anyone? anyone?), the museum has managed to stay under the radar in a city that could certainly use a little peace and understanding.

“We’ve been pursuing a full-on stealth strategy,” explains museum executive director Michael Gagne, a Canadian who moved here for love in 2006 (his wife is from Doylestown) and took the job with the museum one year later. “We’ve really been working to get our foundation in place before making any major announcements.” But with a growing staff, a series of grants, and the $1.3 million capital campaign for 2013 that is about to begin, the time for stealth has passed.

The idea for the museum originally came from Quaker and retired Philadelphia architect Tony Junker (pronounced YOON-ker), now Envision’s board president. Junker, who designed South Philadelphia’s Mummers Museum for the city’s Bicentennial celebrations, is a longtime peace activist and was an avid opponent of the most recent war in Iraq. Junker says that once the war started, “I promised myself that I was going to take positive actions as opposed to demonstrations, which immerse you in negative energy.”

During the war, he visited the gift shop at the National Constitution Center, where he says he was surprised to find so many children’s books “that seemed to define patriotism as picking up your rifle to defend your country, without variation.” And so, he decided there and then to open a peace museum, and these days, he’s collaborating with the NCC on potential mutual exhibits.

The plan is for a phased development. First, a 5,000-square foot version of the Envision Peace Museum (which was going to be called the Imagine Peace Museum until Yoko Ono and her lawyers took exception to the use of the word “Imagine”) near Independence Mall in 2014. Junker is currently looking at potential spaces with a realtor.

After several years of exhibit prototyping and development are completed in that space, Junker sees a full-scale museum in 2020. “That’s a good target date,” says the 74-year old Fitler Square resident, wistfully. “Although I’m not sure I’ll get to see the ultimate building.”

And while the peace museum will be very much about the sometimes eye-roll-eliciting notion of world peace, it will also focus on peace in our own communities and streets.

“So many of us are frustrated, and we have a sense of what should be done, but we don’t know how to do it,” says Junker. “This will be a safe place where people can come and talk about conflict, where groups in the city involved in peace-building can get together, a place where, hopefully, if some kind of conflict breaks out in our city, people would see us as a safe haven. We want to be a practical toolbox kind of place that can help build peace in the city.”

God knows we need it.

[Design concept credits, top to bottom: Elena Kerr, Drexel University; Kara Haggerty, Drexel University; Zhengyuan Le and Natallia Tsynkevich, FIT/SUNY; and Danae Colomer and Amanda Zanski, FIT/SUNY.]