John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Opened October 1993
In 1989, after a decade of operation, attendance at the nation’s first presidential library museum had flagged significantly. As the first step in master planning for the I.M. Pei-designed museum, we commissioned an audience research study which revealed that the majority of visitors were under the age of 30, with no personal recollection of JFK. This inspired us to refocus the museum’s story from one of sadness and loss to one of inspirational leadership, introducing visitors to JFK in an orchestrated series of themed environments and following him from the 1960 presidential campaign through his years in office as president.
Road to the Nomination
The exhibit experience begins with a 20-minute documentary in which JFK reflects on his family’s involvement in politics and his own early political career, taking us up to the moment of his nomination for the presidency at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. We used a first-person, present-tense approach to all the museum’s media to keep viewers fully immersed in the time period and create a sense of immediacy that continues to make compelling connections with today’s young audiences.
L. A. Convention Center
Visitors leave the introductory film theater through a setting suggestive of the Los Angeles Convention Center, site of Kennedy’s nomination for the presidency.
Issues of the 1960 Campaign
Stump speeches, political memorabilia and artifacts from both candidates’ campaigns reveal key issues to visitors as they explore a small town street setting, part of the campaign trail.
Excerpts from this landmark event, the first debate ever televised between presidential candidates, are presented in a setting featuring the camera and sound console from the original CBS studio. Radio listeners believed Nixon had won, while television viewers overwhelmingly favored Kennedy.
West Wing Corridor
Following Kennedy’s election and Inaugural Address, visitors enter a White House setting where the key events of the presidency are played out in rooms off a central corridor.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The “Situation Room” off the main White House corridor is the location for a film that compresses the 13 tension-filled days of the Cuban Missile Crisis into 15 edge-of-your-seat minutes. This dramatic piece unfolds in present tense, using only period film and voice sources to create a vivid impression of “being there.”
Address to the Nation on Civil Rights
Every presidential library has a replica Oval Office, but in only this case is the historic setting used to dramatically present a singular moment in time—the first televised address to the nation broadcast from the White House, which was also the first speech on Civil Rights by a president since Abraham Lincoln. The landmark broadcast is intercut with powerful footage of confrontations and events of the civil rights movement.
Visitors learn of the assassination of the president just as most Americans did on November 23, 1963—from televised news reports. Brief excerpts from the funeral watched by the world are also shown.
Films and videos throughout the museum were produced by Academy Award-winning documentarian Peter Davis.
The sense of loss expressed worldwide upon Kennedy’s death is commemorated in an area that marks the transition between the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy.
A piece of the Berlin Wall marks the end of the Cold War, the issue that dominated the Kennedy presidency. As they leave the museum, visitors are reminded of JFK’s legacy of inspirational leadership by President Bill Clinton in a video that recounts his meeting Kennedy at the White House in 1963 during Boys Nation—a meeting that had a profound impact on the teenage Clinton and made him resolve to seek a life of public service himself.