The Truman Presidential Library and Museum will be closing in less than two weeks to undergo a year-long renovation—the largest renovation since President Truman opened the museum in 1957.
Home to more than 15 million pages of manuscript materials, a replica of the Oval Office during Harry Truman’s presidency, the gravesites of Harry Truman and his wife, Elizabeth “Bess” Truman, and multiple exhibits outlining his entire administration, the museum will close Monday, July 22 and will remain closed until late summer or early fall of 2020.
Kurt Graham, executive director of the museum, said they are not announcing an opening date until renovations are close to completion.
Graham said one of the goals of the renovation is to be able to offer visitors more in-depth information about Harry Truman’s life than the current exhibits and to highlight various aspects of his administration.
“We have a lot that we know about Truman that we didn’t know before,” Graham said. “There especially are a number of aspects of his legacy that are currently underrepresented in our current offering: the recognition of Israel, WWI, civil rights, the Korean War…There are several areas where we can say a lot more than we currently are saying.”
The $25 million project will include a 3,000-square-foot expansion to the building, a brand new entrance on the east side, a new store and ticket counter, enhanced education programs, expanded public programs, and a complete redesign of the flow of the exhibits.
Currently, as visitors enter the south doors of the museum, the first large exhibit is the Oval Office.
This, Graham said, will be switched during the renovation to be presented to visitors toward the end of their visit to add more impact and meaning.
“The whole flow of the exhibit is going to reverse,” Graham said. “[Visitors] see the Oval Office before [they] know anything about his presidency, about how he became president, why he was president, and what was his background before he was president. Now, when [visitors] start on that far east lobby and come back around through the exhibit and get to the Oval Office, that’s the culmination of the visit as opposed to a throwaway at the beginning.”
The early years of Truman’s life are currently located on the lower level. Graham said all of Truman’s history will be brought up to the first level to allow a more cohesive history of Truman’s life and to ensure visitors don’t miss any portion of the exhibits.
After renovations, the lower level of the museum will house special rotating exhibits.
“It’s going to give our visitor a more cohesive, smoother experience,” Graham said. “Right now, the experience, no matter what we do, is pretty choppy. That’s one of our problems, this choppy visitor flow is detracting from the experience.”
The year-long renovation will allow the museum to more expertly craft an improved flow through the history and timeline of Truman’s life and administration.
“What we want to make sure is that when the visitor first comes onto the campus, signage is clear, where you come in is clear, the story unfolds in a very logical way, and there is bonus stuff in the lower level,” Graham said. “It makes a much better visitor experience.”
One focus of the renovation Graham discussed is working to package the museum for a 21st century audience.
“We are, at our core, an educational institution,” Graham said. “We do a lot with students of all ages, but we also want to be a general resource for educating the public. That’s what drives that, is the desire to be able to tell that story in a way that is a little more engaging, maybe to a younger audience, and help them understand the relevance of Truman. You can’t pick up a newspaper today without seeing a headline that doesn’t relate back to Truman. The Middle East, Korea, race relations, etcetera…We are just trying to present it in a way that really gives us a clear picture of why he was important. He literally changed the map of the world. We want to make sure that this is a destination attraction and that gives us an opportunity to pull Truman into content with whole new audiences.”
While the museum will be closed to the public during the process, the research portion will remain open.
Despite the global attraction of the museum, Graham said he wants to focus in on the potential visitors within a 5-mile radius.
“Part of what sparked [this renovation], too, was to not just change the exhibits, but to change the institution to be a public square, to be better connected, especially to Independence and surrounding communities and to connect to our community the way Harry Truman would have wanted us to,” Graham said.
Overall, Graham said he hopes the renovation sparks new engagement and support from the surrounding community.
“What we are really trying to accomplish here is a period of re-engagement with our community,” Graham said. “What we want is for our community to care that we are here. We want them to know we are here, care we are here, and we want them to engage with us.”
The Truman Presidential Library and Museum will continue to have off-site public programming during renovations. For more information on programming or to plan a visit to the museum before it closes, visit www.trumanlibrary.org.