Ladies of Liberty: Tarley Jordan and Olivia El-Sadr Davis, Marketing Mavens at ESI Design

Posted July 13, 2020

In May 2019, the new Statue of Liberty Museum opened on Liberty Island with experience and exhibits by ESI Design, an NBBJ studio. The new museum is part of a $100 million Liberty Island-wide beautification effort that is funded by our clients, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

To celebrate we’re sharing the stories of some of the talented people who have worked for over five years to bring this world-class museum from concept to opening day.

In this edition, you’ll hear from Tarley Jordan and Olivia El-Sadr Davis, marketing mavens at ESI Design, who worked on the marketing and communications in the lead up to the museums opening. 

Name: Tarley Jordan
Job Title: Director, Marketing and Communications
Years of Experience: 15
Age: 36
Nationality: Australian
Languages Spoken: English
Education: Bachelor of Business, University of Technology Sydney

Name: Olivia El Sadr-Davis
Job Title: Marketing and Business Development Specialist
Years of Experience: Five
Age: 26
Nationality: American
Languages Spoken: English, Spanish, a small amount of Arabic
Education: Bachelors in Art History and Economics, New York University

What was your first encounter with the Statue of Liberty?

Olivia El-Sadr Davis: I grew up in New York, but the only time I went to the Statue of Liberty was one time when I was five with my aunt, uncle and cousins who were visiting. The only way they got me there was because they promised to buy me a Razor scooter at the end of the day! I hadn’t been back until I started at ESI Design, when I went for the museum’s topping off ceremony in December 2017

From left, Jenny Chang (from PKPR), Julie Davich, Tarley Jordan and Olivia El-Sadr Davis representing ESI Design at the Statue of Liberty Museum’s topping off ceremony, December 2017.

Tarley Jordan: I’m Australian, and have lived in America for almost eight years, so for most of my life, I didn’t think about the Statue of Liberty at all. When I moved to New York in 2012, I did what most tourists do — I took the Staten Island Ferry to catch a glimpse of the Statue. I was utterly underwhelmed. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The Statue didn’t cross my mind again until my mom and sister visited from Australia in February 2016 (see us on Liberty Island below). It was winter and absolutely freezing! As the wind swirled around me on Liberty Island, I remember gazing up at Lady Liberty and feeling this sense of awe. I was now thoroughly impressed by the Statue, and I have really fond memories of that day. The next time I visited the Statue was just a few months later when I had joined ESI Design as their director of marketing and communications. One of my first assignments was to attend the groundbreaking for the new museum on Liberty Island. It was then that I got the sense that this project was a really big deal and I was going to have a tiny role in it.

Tarley (right) and her family visiting Liberty Island in February 2016

What was your role on the project? What did that mean for you day-to-day?

OED: I joined ESI Design as the museum was beginning its construction, after the design phase. For the first year or so, I was mostly working on the pre-opening marketing, like for the topping off ceremony or torch mobe. But as we got closer to the museum opening, my role transitioned to working with the project team to pull together their six years of knowledge into content that was usable for marketing. One day we had about 40 pages of documents, including the project profile, press releases, fact sheets, and tour talking points pinned up in the main conference room, and we went through them with the project manager and content designer to make sure everything was matching up. There was a really big effort in the two months leading up to the opening. I was an extra in our photo and video shoot — you can see me pretending to be a National Park Service ranger (see picture below). That was on Mother’s Day, so my mom got to come and be in our photo and video shoot too, which is a really nice memory. Since the opening, I’ve been really focused on creating all of the photo and video assets — We have over eight or nine hundred photos that I am working through, picking the selects and getting them retouched. I have also been the editor of this very Ladies and Lads of Liberty interview series which now has profiles 18 people involved with this iconic museum with over 2,500 views!

Olivia El-Sadr Davis standing in during the Museum’s photo and video shoot.

TJ: From the groundbreaking of the museum’s construction site in 2016, to the grand public opening in 2019, I worked as a partner to ESI Design’s clients — the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc, and the National Park Service — and an advocate for the design of the museums experiences and exhibits, created by ESI Design. Before the museum opened, ESI Design were the subject matter experts for what would become the future of the Statue of Liberty’s visitor experience. It was part of my role to help shape the public’s understanding of what they could expect from the new museum’s visitor experience, and we worked closely with our clients to make sure they had all the materials they needed to help tell that story. 

One of the things that I really love about my role at ESI Design is the variety! I brainstormed PR strategy with our clients and project partners, organized hard-hat press tours, worked with ESI Design’s team of multidisciplinary designers to develop and fact-check the marketing materials Olivia mentioned so that we, the press and our clients would have everything they needed to tell a really cohesive, deep and meaningful story about the museum and the work that ESI Design did. A personal highlight for me was emailing Ed Rothstein, the Wall Street Journal’s critic-at-large to organize a private visit to the museum (read the result of that visit: The Statue of Liberty Museum: A Golden Door to an Iconic Monument). Another was coordinating with the Office of President Obama and Michelle Obama when they sent a letter of commendation to our firm to celebrate the museum’s opening. Both were ‘pinch me’ moments.

It’s really important for both ESI Design and our clients to have really good visual assets of the museum. One of the most challenging experiences of this project was organizing a photo and video shoot at the unfinished museum, on an island, on a Sunday – which was also Mother’s Day – and in the rain, just days before the museum opened. In addition to the crew and staff, we had 70+ people coming to the shoot as extras. It was a complicated and high stakes shoot, but we did it, and the results are absolutely stunning (take a look). 

I’m really proud to also have worked so closely with our team of designers and to develop their skills as spokespeople not only for their work on the Statue of Liberty Museum, but also on museum design at large. I’m proud to say that more than 70 percent of the articles that mentioned our work have an ESI Design spokesperson quoted in the story and our team conducted interviews in English, Japanese, Spanish and German! Overall, the work we did generated over a billion media impressions for ESI Design and the museum, which still blows my mind.

From left: Stephanie Land, Tarley Jordan, Yuri Sunahara, Olivia El-Sadr Davis and Presston Brown, the team from ESI Design who produced the photo and video shoot of the new Statue of Liberty Museum, May 2019

How does it feel to have just opened the museum — what does it mean to you?

OED: I am proud of the work that we as a marketing team and our designers did. I think it’s an impressive thing to open any museum, but this is a museum that people from all over the world are going to see. This is probably going to be one of the most diversely visited museums in the world in terms of international visitorship. It feels pretty special to have worked on a project that such a wide variety of people are going to see.

TJ: I was so focused on getting through this huge tidal wave of details leading up to the opening that I didn’t really stop to think about it until I was at a friend’s wedding, and the groom came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Congratulations Tarley, you just played a role in the opening of a museum.” It was only then that I took a deep breath and realized how important the work that I had been doing was.

It also took me back to where this journey began for me; the Museum building’s groundbreaking in October 2016 (see picture below). I remember sitting in the brilliant sunshine and in the middle of New York harbor, amongst some of New York’s top media and VIPs and listened to stories of how Lady Liberty has been a beacon of hope for many immigrants arriving in America. I remember getting chills when Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the audience to raise their hands if they had come to NYC from another country. When I raised my hand then, I knew it was a very special moment in time.

From left: Morgen Fleisig, Presston Brown and Tarley Jordan representing ESI Design at the Statue of Liberty Museum’s ground-breaking ceremony, October 2016

Why is having a museum dedicated to the Statue of Liberty important?

OED: Growing up in New York, I mostly thought of the Statue of Liberty the same way I think about  Times Square — as a tourist attraction. But I realize now how important it is to so many people, and how significant it has been throughout its 133 year history. The museum tells the origin story of the statue; it was originally given to the U.S. after the abolition of slavery. The museum carries the history through to how people use the statue today as a symbol of protest, for civil rights around the world. But it doesn’t just tell you about the story — it invites you into the story and allows you to contribute your views of liberty and what you think liberty means in the world today.

TJ: A lot of people know the Statue of Liberty as an icon, but they don’t recognize the symbolism behind it. What the new Statue of Liberty Museum does, which has never been possible before, is walk the 4.3 million annual visitors to Liberty Island through how the Statue came to be, and what the artists and the supporters of the Statue wanted to convey through the Statue. I had visited the Statue before, and was not aware of this – but now visitors to the new museum can be. I don’t think that any other museum or exhibit design firm could have told the narrative of the Statue in the experiential way that ESI Design did. The highly immersive and visual experience will speak volumes to the growing number of visitors, most of which are from other countries and cultures. The most powerful part of the museum is the self-reflection it sets up for you with the Becoming Liberty exhibit (see below my digital souvenir). It’s so easy to have a passive experience in a museum, but in this museum you are asked to articulate for yourself and everyone around you what you have learned from the experience and ultimately, what liberty means to you.

After working on this project, how has your concept of Liberty evolved?

OED: I’m not sure that my definition of liberty has changed, but it’s in the forefront of my mind a lot more than it had been. This is best represented by the third part of the Immersive Theater, which outlines how the Statue has been used as a symbol of protest by people all around the world since its conception. It’s an incredibly moving part of the story the museum tells, I’ve cried a few times while watching it…

TJ: I agree, there is something incredibly stirring about the Immersive Theater. The spatial design of the theater is designed to evoke emotion and offer the sensation that you’re wrapped up in the folds of the Statue’s robes. And with such a big screen you begin to understand the scale of not only the Statue but the idea of liberty. This physical environment blends seamlessly with the digital projection technology, incredible sound, acoustics and content that ESI Design created together with film director Donna Lawrence Productions, Diversified and SH Acoustics. There is some kind of magic when all of these elements come together and creates it an unforgettable experience.

I don’t think I had a definition for liberty before working on the marketing and PR for the Statue of Liberty Museum. I am proud and excited to say that the museum’s exhibits helped me frame and understand the idea of liberty in a way that I hadn’t had the opportunity to before. Now, I really do feel more connected to the idea of liberty and to the Statue herself.

Tarley and Olivia with some of the ESI Design team who worked on the Statue of Liberty Museum

What were the steps in your journey to working on this project?

TJ: I was telling my friends in Australia that I worked on this project and they said “Oh wow, how did you get to work on this amazing new museum?” It’s a culmination of everything I’ve worked on before — I’ve worked with reporters, written press releases, closely collaborated with partners and clients, worked on PR and Marketing strategy for large campaigns and re-brands, organized photoshoots, and overseen the development of marketing materials. The difference is how high profile this museum opening was. I felt like all of my experience compounded and this was the perfect project for it to all come together for. This has been a huge career highlight for me.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen?

TJ: The biggest thing that we’re noticing in museums is a progression toward more highly visual, participatory-based experiences, and this is reflected in the Statue of Liberty Museum. The museum’s design encourages visitors to not only explore the museum, but contribute their perspective and even their picture to the narrative of the museum. 

OED: Digital elements have been used in museums for decades now, but now they are really being integrated into the story of the museum — it’s not just one digital touchpoint. It is a core part of the museum experience.

What advice would you give to yourself starting your career? 

TJ: I think I spent a lot of time when I was a junior thinking that I had to be perfect and all of my work output also had to be perfect. I wasn’t really sure at that stage of my career what ‘perfect’ looked like, and I think this need to be perfect held me back in some ways. Most things benefit from collaboration and input from other people. And it’s through coming to work at a highly collaborative multi-disciplinary design studio that has helped me understand this and practice the art of collaboration. I would encourage anyone who is building a career in marketing and communications to put themselves, their wacky ideas and their rough first drafts out there. Get advice from people in your team, and people in other teams from around the company. Soak up as much feedback as possible. You and your work output will be stronger as a result.

If you were giving a tour of the museum, what would be your top highlight?

OED: One of the things that I find interesting are the transparent LCDs we use in the Raising Liberty exhibit. I personally think that transparent LCDs seem like magic — they are screens that can become transparent or opaque depending on what’s playing on the screen. In Raising Liberty, they are overlaid on large-scale environmental graphics. The exhibit has one window looking out over Paris, and one window looking out to Brooklyn, and they tell the story of how France and the U.S. worked together to fundraise to build the Statue and Pedestal. I think it’s a great application of a newer technology that is very effective at storytelling.

TJ: The Constructing Liberty exhibit shows the construction of the Statue of Liberty in a really simple and practical way combining historical artifacts, large-scale graphics, a theatrical soundscape and laser projection. The soundscape by Jeremy Bloom is really something special and recreates the sounds of being in Barholdi’s workshop. The construction process itself is more complex than I imagined, and through the immersive exhibit you can see each step, and get up close to a scale model of the Statue’s foot. I can attest that it’s a lot of fun for visitors and a terrific photo opportunity (see below!)

Olivia and Tarley sitting on the scale replica of Lady Liberty’s foot in the Constructing Liberty exhibit of the museum.

If you have any questions for Tarley or Olivia, sound off in the comments!

To read the rest of the interview series, click here.

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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