According to A Position Paper for the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, "America's rich heritage, rooted in our history, our creativity, and our diverse population, provides visitors to our communities with a wide variety of cultural opportunities, including museums, arts and crafts, historic sites, dance, music, theater, festivals, historic buildings and neighborhoods, landscapes, and literature."
Through its collections, exhibits, publications, and educational and social programs, the Presidential Museum is immersed in the multicultural opportunities of West Texas as it offers insights into our national democracy and its offices for all age levels and cultures. The museum was established to heighten an appreciation of and respect for the responsibilities of the Office of the President of the United States. The Presidential Museum is dedicated to the office of the Presidency, to the study and understanding of constitutional government, and the elective process culminating in the Presidency. Its primary task is to convey the importance of the presidency and governmental concerns to citizens of the Permian Basin, Texas, and the far corners of the United States. Visitors from around the country have exclaimed that they are pleasantly surprised when they find this extraordinary West Texas treasure. Currently, approximately 83% of the
Presidential Museum's visitors are from Texas. Promotion is a high priority in order for the
Presidential Museum to gain public awareness. Museum visitation is on a steady increase. The economic and educational impact which the Presidential Museum has the potential of generating for the Petroplex could be astounding if the museum could be properly supported. The full potential of the museum's contribution to Odessa's cultural arts and heritage interpretation has yet to be realized. However, museum visitors want to learn from their experiences, and the Presidential Museum can easily be a part of that intellectual stimulation and rekindling of our national spirit.
The Presidential Museum's statement of mission emphasizes the importance of recording and disseminating information concerning the impact of presidential decisions, background, accomplishments, trials and tribulations, as well as significant events and the signing of bills. Exhibits and collections cover all aspects of the presidency, the presidents, their families, their political affairs, and their worldwide influences.
The museum has two permanent exhibit galleries. In one gallery, Every Four Years
(designed and installed in the early- to mid-'80s) examines presidential campaign strategies and paraphernalia from 1789 to 1984. The more recent chronology is not as effectively displayed due to lack of space. The other "permanent" exhibit is the celebrated Dishong collection of miniature replicas of First Lady inaugural gowns.
Through feature exhibitions and related programming, the Presidential Museum
recognizes the White House administrations and their ideals. The roles of national and
international issues in various administrations are presented through temporary exhibitions. Programs and temporary exhibits are being planned to coordinate with school curricula. Activities, exhibits, lectures, and other presentations, whether held at the museum, local schools, colleges, universities, or other places of public gathering, educate the general public regarding various aspects of the presidency.
One of the staff's short-term goals is to computerize the collection accession information. In the process, complete documentation, storage facilities to conserve artifacts, and complete accession records should be made available. Limited staff time, filled with a broad range of responsibilities, is making the complete process seem like an infinite operation. Grant proposals are being prepared to help fund the necessary equipment and staff time to make this dream come to fruition.
The second function of the museum revolves around the "Library of the Presidents," a research library for in-house use. The library is essential for the development of in-house exhibits. It is useful for the staff, casual reader, or the scholarly researcher to find pertinent information. The museum receives inquiries from across the United States concerning presidents or the presidency. One goal of the Museum Curator is to assemble frequently requested information into a convenient, ready-to-send information format.
The staff is hoping to see the Library of the Presidents be recognized as a first-rate
research facility. The library also is used by local citizens (mostly elementary school students) for basic research. As the budget allows, holdings are slowly updated with additional printed and video collections. It is hoped to be connected, in the not-too-distant future, to other repositories via the information superhighway.
The Presidential Museum is at the dawn of a new era of growth and expansion. The
museum's Board of Trustees recognizes the need for Board involvement. Museum holdings are of national concern. Therefore, governance and membership should reflect a broader scope. The Board and membership base is expanding to include individuals outside the Odessa area to reflect broader demographics. Area educators are being cultivated and reminded of the interdisciplinary education opportunities available to them. Funding and manpower are being solicited for outreach programs to schools, etc.
Resource sharing is a necessary means of providing the information to museum visitors. A case in point: in the fall of 1995, six cultural and arts institutions in Odessa worked together on a thematic series of programs and exhibitions. By pooling resources and sharing audiences, an excellent collaborative of ideas developed into series of events for many to enjoy. Although the Presidential Museum is a narrow-focus history museum with a small staff, the information and materials available from the museum could be of some value to museums around the country. (This is where a better cataloguing system is necessary.) To more ably accomplish the goals of the museum, a dialogue with most of the presidential museums and allied historic sites around the
nation has been initiated.
Immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, a small group of Odessa citizens met to discuss a memorial to the slain President. From late November through early December, discussions continued, and the idea was expanded to encompass the entire presidency, honoring all the men, past, present, and future occupying the office. A "Presidential Room in the Library" was adopted as an appropriate form for the memorial.
On February 25, 1965, the Presidential Room opened in the basement of Odessa's Ector County Library. A constitution and bylaws were adopted by a Board of Trustees on September 26, 1966. With an ever-increasing collection, the museum grew. Eventually, it took over the entire basement of Odessa's public library. On February 6, 1969, the name was officially changed from the Presidential Room to The Presidential Museum. As such it was incorporated under Texas non-profit corporation laws on September 26, 1976.
In July 1981, the Ector County Library moved to another building, and the museum spread upstairs to occupy the entire building. With the expansion to the ground floor, a renovation and design project was undertaken with a grant from the City of Odessa. Two exhibit galleries to house the permanent collection were designed and constructed by Ralph Rhodes Associates of New Harmony, Indiana.
Although not a part of the Rhodes design project, grant funds also provided renovation of remaining spaces as storage, work, and meeting areas including the John Ben Shepperd gallery. This main gallery serves to present an ongoing temporary exhibition program to museum visitors, providing a broader variety of topics relating to the presidency in the disciplines of art, science, and government. The renovation was completed and opened to the public in March 1984.