Visitors Center not open for 40th anniversary

Nick Glunt

Room 101 of Taylor Hall was the office for the Daily Kent Stater in 1970, but today it is the future site of the May 4 Visitors Center, a three-room permanent exhibit planned for completion in no less than two years.

“The goal of the exhibit is to tell the story (of May 4, 1970) accurately with the best-documented facts,” said Laura Davis, a Kent State English professor and witness to the shootings, “and to show the impact and the lasting meaning of May 4 for today.”

Davis and Carole Barbato, a Kent State communications professor, are coordinating the creation of the museum-style exhibit at the head of about 50 scholars from all around the country.

Today is the 40th anniversary of what has been called the “Kent State Massacre.”

The exhibit will explain the events leading to the deaths of four Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard that day through audio and visual galleries.

The exhibit is being designed by a firm called Gallagher & Associates, which has most recently designed visitors centers for Gettysburg and Woodstock.

The visitors center will cost about $1 million to build, Davis said. They have applied for a $400,000 federal grant, but will not know if it is accepted or rejected until August. They are also taking donations.

The center began as a petition by the May 4 Task Force to the university president about four or five years ago, Davis said.

“People want to know the story,” Davis said, “but it’s a little hard to know the details and the documented facts of the story.”

A feel for the times

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors will first see an entire wall of images depicting the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the struggle for social justice at that time and the Vietnam War.

Barbato explained the theme of the first gallery is to “help the visitor get into the spirit of the 1960s.”

There will be photographs, clothing, music and other artifacts on display to help visitors understand the period, Barbato said.

Full immersion

The second gallery is what Barbato and Davis call an “immersion experience.” This room deals with exactly what happened May 4, 1970.

Photographs and large quotes will fill three walls of the immersion room, Barbato said. Time-stamped pictures will show what happened throughout the day.

An original documentary will fill the entire fourth wall, shown by two projectors attached to the ceiling.

“The documentary talks about the day and will end with the shootings,” Barbato said. “It’s literally an immersion.”

Historical impact

The final room will deal with the national and global impact of May 4, 1970.

The impact of May 4 includes the president and Congress lowering the voting age to 18 and passing military reforms. After these events, states began to pass laws mandating the National Guard would not use lethal force in civil disturbances, Barbato said.

“We’ll have excerpts of people’s reactions to the shootings,” Barbato said, “both positive and negative, national and local.”

Period televisions will show mini-documentaries with then-contemporary television programming, Davis said.

The room will be on the side of Taylor Hall with the windows facing the Commons, where the 2,000 to 3,000 students gathered that day.

Tweeting responses

When exiting, Barbato and Davis said visitors will have a chance to use the visitors center’s Twitter account to announce to the world their thoughts about the exhibit.

Responses will appear on a scrolling text monitor nearby, Davis said.

Sneak peek

The future site of the exhibit in Taylor Hall Room 101 will be open May 1 through May 4. The room will host an art show and will give visitors a sneak peek into the final design.

Davis thinks the exhibit is important to Kent State and to the nation.

“It’s that old adage about history repeating itself,” Davis said. “If we don’t think about those lessons, then we’re doomed to repeat certain things that nobody should have to repeat.”

Contact student politics reporter Nick Glunt at [email protected].