DEA Museum provides education and history – a hidden gem in the D.C. museum scene
After more than two years of careful planning, design, and construction, the DEA Museum in Arlington, Virginia, will reopen October 15, 2021. The Museum, which originally debuted in 1999, has been reimagined by staff and partners to engage and educate the public in a colorful, contemporary space. Interactive exhibits featuring hands-on activities, artifacts, and diverse, personal histories make the Museum a modern and compelling exploration of the long, dynamic history of drug misuse and enforcement unlike any other. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM, the Museum welcomes visitors of all ages—with FREE admission.
There is something for everyone at the new Museum. Its innovative learning environment boasts over 40 hands-on activities, 180 artifacts, a changing exhibit space, and an education room outfitted with distance learning technology. Touchscreen timelines reveal how drug law enforcement has changed as technology, medicine, and society changed too. Younger visitors can earn a Junior Special Agent badge by completing word searches, letter scrambles, and other challenges to think like DEA agents. Exhibits and activity stations beckon every guest to inspect artifacts, examine fingerprints, go on virtual missions, and more.
The new Museum tells the story of DEA through people and their unique experiences. Displays showcase the various roles of DEA agents and employees, delve into the history of predecessor agencies, and emphasize the impact of drug use on Americans’ lives. Exhibits on the science of opium, marijuana, cocaine, and synthetic drug addiction also empower visitors with knowledge of different drugs and their risk factors. Nowhere else can guests investigate these topics with the resources and expertise of DEA.
The renewed visitors experience builds upon the Museum’s rich history serving DEA and local communities. Its collection grew from humble beginnings: an assortment of narcotics law enforcement badges gathered by a special agent. Twenty years later, a small team of DEA employees transformed objects into an engaging exhibit space that probed the history of substance misuse in the United States and how government addressed that problem. The Museum also developed a critically acclaimed changing exhibit that now travels the country as Drugs: Costs and Consequences. Long an established destination for law enforcement and drug prevention professionals, today’s Museum honors their service with a new strategic plan that offers honest, compelling, and inclusive displays and educational programming.
A key component of the Museum’s renovation is the redesigned Wall of Honor, a central, yet serene, place of reflection located in the Museum’s lobby. Newly commissioned portraits, a dignified brass display area, respectful 24-hour illumination, and an interactive kiosk shares the stories of each hero. DEA is unified in remembrance of its fallen—an unforgettable part of its history.
The captivating and changing exhibit area will keep visitors coming back for more. The display is cycled regularly and inspires a lecture series featuring experts on its artifacts and theme. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle seized from a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club leader is currently on exhibit. The bright red bike signifies the effects of asset forfeiture on drug traffickers’ finances. Disrupt, Dismantle, and Destroy, an exploration of the kingpin strategy, will open soon.
A rotating spotlight exhibit area highlights noteworthy moments in DEA’s history. This year’s spotlight, Taking Down “El Chapo,” details the capture and conviction of Joaquín “El Chapo” Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa Cartel and one of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers. Visitors can view an original courtroom drawing of El Chapo’s trial, his prison uniform, and gilded weapons confiscated by DEA agents in the field.
To encourage learning beyond the galleries, the Museum will launch a new website soon featuring enriching online content and educational programming. Sleek and accessible, deamuseum.org will assemble online exhibits, recorded lectures, and other activities and resources in one, easy-to-use site. Users can view the collection, book tours, contact staff members, and stay up to date on Museum news and programs, including artifact talks and scouting activities. Staff is also developing an inaugural distance learning program which will deliver live, virtual content from the multipurpose education room, a first in Museum history.
The DEA Museum is located at 700 Army Navy Drive in Arlington, Virginia. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM, admission is free. The Museum is a component of the Community Outreach & Prevention Support Section of DEA’s Office of Congressional & Public Affairs. Special thanks to the Museum’s partner developers: Hadley, Electrosonic, The PRD Group LLC, and RLMG.