Brainchild behind TSA flagship exhibit

Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Nancy Flores photo

“Remembering the past, informing the future.”

Canine uniform photo
Canine Handler uniforms on display at TSA Mission Hall. (Photo by Thomas Mandley)

That’s the theme of an exhibit at TSA headquarters that tells the story of how TSA was born and how the agency has evolved over its 21-year history.

Mission Hall, as the agency’s flagship exhibition is called, was the brainchild of Nancy Flores Snyder.

“My vision was to preserve TSA’s history and tell our story to headquarters visitors and the workforce,” said Flores Snyder. “We have (artifacts) that explain aviation history prior to 9/11, events that happened during 9/11 that caused the birth of the agency, and then it tells the rest of TSA’s history to people who visit the building.”

She said the idea was to have a permanent collection and a one-stop shop to tell visitors “who we are, what we do and what we’re about.”

TSA gave Flores Snyder full creative authority to develop the exhibit at the new headquarters building in Springfield, Virginia, which opened in late 2020.

“I see it as the crown jewel of the building,” she emphasized. “Some people in the agency don’t know our history, like new employees, and I think it’s a really neat place for them to learn more about TSA, why we are here, what their role is and to take pride in what they do in the agency.”

Flores Snyder, who joined TSA in 2016, used the world’s largest museum complex, which is just a few miles from TSA headquarters, as her model.

“A lot of how we put the exhibit together was based off of what I saw at the Smithsonian as well as the National Gallery of Art,” she noted. “I didn’t have experience producing exhibits, but I do have a research background. I spent a lot of time researching how exhibits are put together at the Smithsonian and then working with the (TSA headquarters) architects to build the space.”

Flores Snyder said this was a three-year project, which started in early 2018 with the artifacts in place by March 2021. She’s proud of how it all came together.

Uniforms photo
First and second generation TSA Officer uniforms on display at TSA Mission Hall. (Photo by Thomas Mandley)

“The whole point of the exhibit was to create a place people are proud of,” said Flores Snyder. “I’m proud of how it looks and how Administrator Pekoske really values and loves it. I gave Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary John Tien a tour during one of our 9/11 events, and he loved that this encompasses all of TSA.”

She views Mission Hall as a commitment to TSA’s people.

“I wanted to tell TSA’s story from beginning to end, although our story doesn’t end,” Flores Snyder said. “There was a lot of research into getting the perfect (employee) mannequins, the perfect canine for the canine handler portion. Then, working with the different offices to ensure the uniforms were exactly what they looked like in the field.”

She believes Mission Hall is far from finished, with an opportunity to grow and expand as TSA continues to evolve.

Mission Hall cabinet photo
TSA Mission Hall spotlights Nancy Flores Snyder, the exhibit’s curator, at TSA headquarters. (Photo by Thomas Mandley)

“We’re moving at such a fast pace that we can create videos to talk about what is next,” explained Flores Snyder. “We have four display cases, the fourth of which is dedicated to TSA’s technology and where we are going in the future.”

As a gift to employees in conjunction with TSA’s 21st anniversary this Saturday, our agency is officially unveiling the virtual Mission Hall experience for people unable to visit headquarters. The virtual experience will make you feel like you’re going through the physical exhibit Flores Snyder created.

TSA historians Michael Smith and Jamie Simons, Alan Lucks and Patrick Godfrey of TSA’s Explosives Operations Branch, and Requirements and Capabilities Analysis played key roles in the creation of the flagship exhibition.

Whether you experience the physical or virtual Mission Hall, Flores Snyder expects the tour will trigger your memories of key moments in TSA’s history, which you may have forgotten or didn’t know.

A part of Mission Hall offers a legacy to Flores Snyder for all of her hard work and dedication to make the exhibit a reality.

“My name is on the wall in Mission Hall,” she said. “And it says, ‘Curated by Nancy Flores Snyder.’ So for me, it’s really cool to kind of leave a lasting impression on TSA.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs