Imaging the Future of Museums / by Liz Maurer

What will be different about museums in 2040?  

The November/December 2017 issue of the American Alliance of Museum’s Museum magazine  arrived slightly ahead of schedule. Twenty-three years in fact. Rather than exploring today’s museums, it imagines museums in the future. The issue brings together curators, audience experts, and industry professionals who share their visions for a dynamic and responsive museum community. D&P was tickled to gaze into our own crystal ball to see what’s in store.

The issue speculates that museums will have broken through the fourth wall of architecture. As fully integrated community anchors, their expanded roles as education centers, health and wellness providers, and models of environmental sustainability will seamlessly interface with daily life. The red thread connecting the articles is that the museums of 2040 will thrive as never before based on the support and services they provide to communities. They will anchor communities

As you read the stories in this issue, I hope you ask yourself, “Do I think this could happen? Do I want this to happen?” And, perhaps most importantly, “Does this have to wait until 2040, or can I make it happen now?

Museum editor Elizabeth Merritt encourages readers to examine the premises behind these future museums.


D&P’s fantasy envisions a future in which exhibits continue to be the cornerstone of museum experiences. In particular, experiences providing insight into our present, informed by the past. We’ve worked on hundreds of exhibits in every subject matter over our 65+ years in business. It struck us that one type of museum is already implementing Museum’s envisioned future: presidential libraries. Yes, the type of museum that at first glance seems impossibly traditional. D&P has fabricated and installed exhibits for seven of the 13 presidential libraries over the past 30 years. In our experience, many presidential museums foreshadow the future that Museum magazine anticipates.

Ad. November/December 2017 issue of  Museum  magazine.

Ad. November/December 2017 issue of Museum magazine.

How are current presidential museums projecting the promise of the future?

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Opened 2011. Design by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Opened 2011. Design by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum encourages visitors to rediscover President Reagan’s values, actions, and spirit of determination. As the president who presided over the end of the Cold War, exhibits explore Reagan’s relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall. “promote true openness, to tear down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world” Exhibit themes emphasize the breaking down of barriers and the resulting globalization.  


Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

Opened 2009. Design by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

Opened 2009. Design by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

In line with Jimmy Carter’s energy conservation directives, D&P collaborated with lighting and exhibit designers and lighting manufacturers, to develop an efficient, LED exhibit lighting track-head with the flexibility to give distinctive color and lighting effects to each gallery. The lighting design created preservation light levels for valuable artifacts. In the spirit of reduce, reuse, and recycle, the exhibit re-used much of the existing light track and repurposed existing fixtures.

Jimmy Carter’s NGO, the Carter Center, helps to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy and human rights; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The presidential museum’s uniquely-styled touch table illustrates many of the Carter Center's global programs and how they are integrated into each country’s cultural context.  The “Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, and Building Hope,” program allows visitors to select destinations; play simulation games; explore a series of activities; experience personal stories from each country they visit; and have “take-away mementos” emailed to their home.

64  Carter Museum © J Rosenblatt.jpg

Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum

Opened 2012. Designed by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

Opened 2012. Designed by Gallagher & Associates. Fabrication by D&P.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum re-opened December 22, 2012 with new, state-of-the art exhibits using progressive technology to present Johnson’s life and legacy to contemporary visitors.  The large numbers of multi-media records preserved from Johnson’s presidency are the basis for innovative interactive exhibits giving visitors unprecedented access to the President’s story through his own voice. The newly designed exhibits are enriched by a downloadable application and handheld guide with options to select several different tours including bi-lingual materials. LBJ envisioned an institution that would “show the facts, not just the joy and triumphs, but the sorrow and failures, too.” The Johnsons were committed to transparency and objectivity. They exemplified the museum of the future where exhibits facilitate visitors in constructing knowledge.


George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Opened 2013. Design by the PRD Group. Fabrication by D&P.

Opened 2013. Design by the PRD Group. Fabrication by D&P.

The museum demonstrates President and Mrs. Bush’s mutual goals for freedom around the world. The Decision Points Theater is an interactive environment that engages up to 24 visitors in presidential decision-making. Groups select one of four actual scenarios—the Iraq invasion, 2007 troop buildup, Hurricane Katrina, or the financial crisis. Players select videos providing advice from generals, lawmakers, and White House aides while also receiving real time, live reports of new developments before voting on a plan of action. The rapid-fire information stream simulates real-life presidential decision making. The sophisticated program tracks input in real-time, noting changes as decisions are made. Group results are revealed after four minutes, and President Bush appears on-screen to share his decision and reasoning.


Anticipating the future . . .

Several new Presidents will be elected between now and 2040. Each of their libraries and museums will curate, preserve, and exhibit the artifacts of American politics.  We imagine that their presidential museums will contextualize presidencies within their times while demonstrating how the past affects people today.

A presidential library, as expressed by LBJ, makes the administration’s documents available to the public and opens a presidency to full public examination. Embodying a co-curation model inviting the public into the process, they encourage interaction with artifacts—and documents—to build knowledge. In doing so, they fulfill the promise of the museum of the future.