By Shelbi LeMeilleur
On Oct. 21, 2017, Reed Arena at Texas A&M University played host to what will be remembered as an historic event for Bryan College Station. The crowd in Reed included all five living former presidents of the United States. Most tickets to the highly anticipated event were sold out within hours, but the concert was live-streamed nationally on TV and online. Besides garnering global attention, the event featured a star-studded line-up of performers including a surprise visit from Lady Gaga.
It started out as a simple affair — the Gatlin Brothers performing under a tent in front of Reed Arena — to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. After the devastation of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, President George H.W. Bush contacted Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to establish the One America Appeal concert to raise funds for hurricane recovery. The once-simple event quickly morphed into a celebration of giving that raised $31 million for hurricane recovery and helped usher in the next 20 years of Bryan College Station serving as home to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center.
It’s just one more part of the legacy. The simple, but extraordinary, call that got the One America Appeal ball rolling barely skims the surface of the generosity, sense of community, and public service that encompasses the legacy of President George H.W. Bush. These values have been an integral part of the B/CS community through the Bush Presidential Library Center for the last 20 years. It’s a legacy that will only continue to grow in the future.
George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum officially opened on Nov. 6, 1997. After four years of hard work and preparations, the public had a new place to experience history and learn about President Bush’s life and time as president. Director of the Bush Presidential Library, Warren Finch, remembers opening day fondly.
“It was beautiful,” Finch says. “It was clear and crisp and there were thousands of people here. We had been working on it since 1993; so, we had been working on it for about four years, and then the place opened, and it was just glorious. That was just an amazing day.”
From its inception, the Bush Library and Museum has been charged with preserving records and artifacts of President George H.W. Bush, and making them available to the public. As part of The Bush Center, the Bush Library and Museum works alongside the Bush School of Government and Public Service and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation to promote the president’s life and legacy, according to Museum Marketing and Communications Director David Anaya. The museum is home to both permanent exhibits and featured visiting exhibits, as well educational and public programs.
“People get to learn about President Bush and what he’s done, but also the government in general — what it means to be president and how the government works as well,” explains Anaya. “The Presidential Library and Museum isn’t just a museum. We also have numerous public programs throughout the year. … We also have millions of documents and hundreds of thousands of photos in our archives.”
The Bush Library and Museum has grown immensely over the last 20 years and the archivists are always seeking out new documents to add. The exhibits have grown to include new and emerging technologies over the years, as well. One of the biggest changes came with a complete refresh of the exhibits in 2007.
“In the original museum we only had about three or four interactives,” says Finch. “In the new museum, we went to close to 100 videos and interactives out there now.”
Between 1997 and 2007, the emergence of new resources made the update possible, according to Finch. Some of the biggest additions were personal scrapbooks donated by First Lady Barbara Bush. Everything also switched to digital technology during the refresh.
“The way we present the story has changed dramatically,” says Dr. Robert Holzweiss, about the technological changes in the museum. Holzweiss is deputy director of the Bush Library and Museum.
To visit the museum is to experience history come to life — neither political party affiliation nor whether you have visited one time or 100 times matters — there is always something new at the Bush Library and Museum.
“We always do a large, major temporary exhibit every year,” Finch says. “We are always changing things around; there’s always something new.”
One of only 13 presidential libraries in the U.S., the Bush Library and Museum is unique in many ways. Unlike other presidential libraries, attendance in B/CS has not faltered over the last 20 years. Part of that is due to interest in President Bush, but being part of the B/CS community is also a factor.
“There are not many communities in this country that have a museum like the Bush Presidential Library. I think that brings recognition to the city of College Station,” says Finch. “The Bush Presidential Library is always part of the story of why [B/CS] is a great place to live.”
National recognition is part of the reason the Bush Library and Museum has a positive impact on local tourism; it brings more than just the Bush legacy to the table. “We are a cultural institution, we are a museum, we have a lot of events, and we have a lot of very important speakers who come to speak here,” says Finch.
While the Bush Foundation helps provide new materials and financial resources, leaders of the three namesake organizations (Bush Foundation, Bush Library and Bush School) coordinate the overall goals of the Bush Center. “We have an endowment and a terrific foundation, which is very aggressively helping us both financially, but also materially, contacting people who might help us with in-kind gifts or perhaps donate materials to us that help tell that story,” says Holzweiss.
While the Bush Foundation helps provide new materials and financial resources, the Bush Center works to coordinate the overall goals. “We meet monthly, the leaders of the three units, to coordinate our activities, our events particularly, and make sure we’re all what I call ‘singing from the same sheet of music,’” says Holzweiss. “We all have different jobs, and different roles, and different functions, so we also need to be cognizant of that. … But there are places that we intersect and it makes sense to coordinate our actions together.”
Looking to the future, the Bush Library and Museum has the same goals to preserve and promote the legacy of President Bush, but on an even larger scale at an important crossroad in history.
“We are at a period where serious history starts to be written,” says Finch. “The period when you really start writing history is 30 years after the event, so we’re getting there. There are a lot of really scholarly books written about that period of history, and we are doing our part to make the records available for that legacy.”
In the next 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, the Bush Library and Museum will continue to do what it has always done. There will also be new and emerging technologies as they present themselves, and perhaps a fresh look, too.
“I think what we are going to see is a lot more personalized museum experience, where you walk in and we deliver content — I call it value-added content — on your device,” says Holzweiss.
Anaya agrees that technology will play a large role in future museum exhibits and how they are able to promote the Library and Museum to the public. What won’t change is the focus on continuing to honor President Bush. It is also possible the Bush Library and Museum will do another refresh in the next five to 10 years, updating all the permanent exhibits, according to Finch.
“The legacy [of the Bush family] is worthy of the story. We are the tellers of the story,” says Holzweiss. “President and Mrs. Bush, I think, have a legacy worth telling. The story is certainly a story of America, and I think people are very interested in it. Both President and Mrs. Bush, particularly President Bush, has made a point of telling us, ‘Let history be the judge.’”
HOW TO GET PLUGGED IN
Become a Member
Annual Membership to the Presidential Library Foundation begins at $41 per year, and the eight levels include increasing benefits. All members receive free admission to presidential libraries, discounted merchandise, additional library guest passes, and invitations to programs hosted by the Foundation. Other benefits include discount on the summer kids programs, exhibit grand openings, and event reserved seating. For more information, visit www.bush41.org/join.
Permanent and Upcoming Exhibits
There are 31 permanent exhibits in the museum, including Symbols of the Presidency, Working for Peace, Journey to the Presidency, Gifts of State, The Berlin Wall/Age of Freedom, A Tough Campaign and a Life of Service, A Thousand Points of Light, and more.
The feature exhibit for 2018 is Leonard da Vinci: Machines in Motion. The exhibit presents full-scale machines as part of a hands-on experience for guests. Some of the machines on display include the revolving crane, armored car, printing press, and a working robot. The exhibit will be on display beginning Feb. 12 through Jan. 6, 2019.
The Bush School of Government and Public Service
The Bush School offers three graduate programs and three graduate certificates for any student interest in pursuing a career in public service. These include a Master of Public Service and Administration, Master of International Affairs, Executive Master of Public Service and Administration, Certificate in Nonprofit Management, Certificate in Homeland Security, and Certificate in Advanced International Affairs. The top-tier research university also hosts three cutting-edge research institutions: Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy; Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy; and Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs.
The Bush Library and Museum hosts many educational programs to enrich learning in young minds, with an emphasis on U.S. history, the role of the president, and the administration of President Bush. These programs include Historical Storytelling Programs, Classroom Programs, Summer Camps, and Art & Essay Contests.
The 2018 Art & Essay Contests are now open, and coincide with the new Da Vinci: Machines in Motion exhibit. The “Create Like Leonardo, Full STEAM Ahead!” Art Contest is open to grades K-12; The “Genius Through History, Past and Modern” Essay Contest is open to grades 4-12. Mailed entries must be postmarked by March 2, or submissions may be dropped off at the Bush Library and Museum on Feb. 28 and March 1 from 2pm to 7pm. Find more information at www.bush41.org/education/art-and-essay-contest.
Volunteers are an important part of the Bush Library and Museum. In fact, President Bush said, “A volunteer is a person who can see what others cannot see; who can feel what most do not feel. Often, such gifted persons do not think of themselves as volunteers, but as citizens – citizens in the fullest sense: partners in civilization.” Volunteers at the Bush Library and Museum help with tours, exhibit projects, administrative support, and more. If interested, visit www.bush41.org/support/volunteer-opportunities.