Renovated museums usually see attendance jump
When museums reopen after a significant renovation, anticipation and curiosity will naturally produce an attendance boon at first.
Officials at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence have long expected that when they prepared to throw open the doors to the public last Friday for the first time in nearly two years.
Their counterparts at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, one of the first presidential libraries in the National Archives system to reopen amid the pandemic, can relate.
“In the museum world, we know that once you do a major, major renovation, you should see a major interest for 12 to 18 months,” Dawn Hammatt, director of the Eisenhower Library, said citing research from the American Alliance of Museums. “In our location we have an added issue of winter; our visitation does drop off in winter.”
“The museum field, it’s great to have these researchers that are looking at things for the whole field, because we couldn’t do that ourselves.”
The Eisenhower Library reopened in August 2019 after a renovation that started in May 2018. After missing the initial hoped-for reopening to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June 2019, library officials there scheduled a grand reopening ceremony for October that year on Eisenhower’s birthday. That facility enjoyed tremendous attendance before the pandemic.
“January is generally our slowest month,” Hammett said, “and in January 2020, we had almost 20,000 visitors. That’s an astounding amount for January in the middle of Kansas.”
To compare, the Truman Library welcomed about 92,000 visitors annually until 2019, when renovations started in July.
The Eisenhower Library reopened May 20 this year with limited hours and timed tickets similar to the Truman Library’s set-up, and last week added two days to be open six days a week. The refreshed interest from last year has remained.
“We sold out every day until recently before the day got to us,” Hammatt said. “Recently we were able to add a few days to the calendar, and we recently added more hours.”
With the Truman Library renovation, officials wanted to reimagine how the exhibits told Truman’s story, weaving his personal life and presidential years more on a single floor of exhibits and making many aspects interactive to appeal with all generations and explain the current relevance of Truman’s presidency.
Hammatt said the officials with the Eisenhower Library wanted to make a similar reach with the renovation there.
“We wanted to ensure that Ike and (First Lady) Mamie were accessible to the next generations of people who don’t have a personal connection to them,” Hammatt said. “How do we introduce them to teens or people in their 20s. We need to allow Ike and Mamie to tell their story best. We don’t need to interpret; they left behind enough words.”
“We also wanted to support educators in the classroom, and we developed exhibits so that each type of learner can benefit.”
The Eisenhower Library and the Nixon Library in California were the first two in the National Archives’ presidential library system to reopen. The Reagan Library in California and the G.W. Bush Library in Texas have also reopened in recent weeks, and the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., has also reopened – all with limited hours. After the Truman Library, eight more in the system still remain to reopen, including the Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, reopened in late January, but it is privately operated and not part of the National Archives system.
Truman Library officials have not yet scheduled a grand reopening ceremony, as they wait on both the pandemic and affirmative responses from some hoped-for dignitaries. No matter when that happens, Hammatt said she hopes Independence and nearby areas enjoy the reopening hoopla and new exhibits after waiting through a renovation extended by pandemic.
“I hope you all revel in it,” she said.
If you go:
Tickets for the Truman Library are available online only at TrumanLibrary.gov. They are $12 each for general admission, $10 for seniors 62-old