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ESPHS Wins Nation’s Highest Award in Exhibition Development and Design

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site Wins Nation’s Highest Award in Exhibition Development and Design

May 8, 2017

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has won First Place in the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions awards presented by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The award goes to Eastern State’s new exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

The award was presented to Eastern State staff on Monday, May 8 at the AAM National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

The exhibit was also awarded AAM’s MUSE award for “Postcards to Your Future Self,” a digital interactive in Prisons Today, and the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education. The exhibit has already taken the Institutional Award for Special Achievement, the top award from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums.

Prisons Today has received wide national attention within the museum field since its opening in May of 2016. The exhibit design has been noted for its unusual strategy of admitting that it is not entirely neutral. The opening panel, for instance, compares crime rates and incarceration rates over time, and simply states, “MASS INCARCERATION ISN’T WORKING.” The exhibit is also noteworthy because it is sometimes staffed by tour guides who have themselves been incarcerated.

“The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, by far, with 2.2 million citizens in prison or jail, and yet we have no national prison museum,” said Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President, Director of Interpretation and Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. “Many Americans view criminal justice reform as the civil rights challenge of this generation. It’s time to address this subject with honesty and critical thinking, and there’s no better place to do so than Eastern State Penitentiary.”

The Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration design and fabrication team includes:

Exhibition Development and Design: Keith Ragone Studio, Metcalfe Architecture and Design
Fabrication and Installation: Universal Services Associates, Inc.
Digital Interactives: Interactive Mechanics
Video Production, Media Design and Installation: Greenhouse Media

Previous winners of the Excellence in Exhibition Award include the National Museum of the American Indian and the National September 11 Memorial Museum.


About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The penitentiary is open seven days a week, year round. When purchasing online, admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7- 12. When purchasing at the door, admission is $16, $14, and $12, respectively. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.

For more information and schedules, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit

Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner