LBJ Library to Get $10 Million Overhaul

The past isn’t dead—in fact, it’s so alive, it needs cosmetic work to keep it looking good.

With that in mind, the LBJ Library and Museum is undergoing its first overhaul since 1984. The LBJ Foundation is raising $10 million to make the museum more splashy, interactive, and engaging.

The times demand it, director Mark Updegrove says, as the legacy of Lyndon Baines Johnson grows more relevant than ever.

“We look at the debate about government that seems to be shaping the 2012 election—it’s all about the role of government in American life,” Updegrove says. “Medicare is on the chopping block. Federal funding for education is being cut. Voting rights are now under siege. So many of the programs LBJ put into place are being debated. The legacy of the Great Society continues to resound.”

Work has already begun and is scheduled to be finished by December 2012, in time for what would have been Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday.

Updegrove, who joined the LBJ Library in late 2009, said he’s been wanting to modernize the museum experience “since I walked in the door, and luckily, the foundation felt the same way.”

Here are some of the changes the museum is touting:

  • In 15 interactive locations, visitors will pick up telephones to hear President Johnson speak in recorded telephone conversations.
  • A hand-held, touch-screen guide will offer photos, audio, and video.
  • The museum store will double in size.
  • The animatronic LBJ (the life-size figure of LBJ who moves and tells tall tales) will get a new suit of clothes and join an exhibit on LBJ humor.
  • Three new theaters will show films on civil rights, LBJ’s legacy, and the First Family.
  • New interactive exhibits will include “The Journey of a Bill,” illustrating how a bill is passed in Congress;“Lasting Impact,” showing how legislation enacted in the Johnson administration still resonates; and an exhibit about LBJ’s archives and historical papers.
  • The 10th floor will feature an exhibit of broad appeal to all ages: the “First Family in the White House.”
  • In the section on the Vietnam War, the visitor will act as an advisor to LBJ, participating in three key decision points on the war.

Presidential libraries run the gamut on their perspectives—some cheerlead for the president’s legacy, while others offer a more balanced view.

To ensure that the LBJ Library falls firmly into the balanced category, Updegrove says, it is involving historians like Michael Beschloss, Robert Dallek, and Douglas Brinkley in the renovation. That’s in keeping, he says, with LBJ’s desire to show history “with the bark off.”

The LBJ Library and Museum hosts around 250,000 visitors on the UT campus each year.

Top: Photo by Val Cook. Below: Animatronic Lyndon Baines Johnson. Courtesy LBJ Library.

 

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