On the edge of the campus of Southern Methodist University is the George W Bush Museum. We arrived shortly after opening on a Saturday morning and parking was not a problem in a paid lot just across the street from the museum. However, when we left the museum a few hours later, the lot was full and the nearest parking is a ramp that is several blocks away. Parking fees are paid upon exit or can be paid at the ticket counter in the museum.
The museum is a large building – about 60,000 square feet. About half of the building is devoted to the Presidential Library and about half is devoted to the Presidential Museum.
After going through the entrance, visitors must pass through a metal detector before arriving at the admissions/ticket rotunda. There are multiple counter locations available where parking can be paid for as well as the admission cost to the museum. An audio tour wand is available if demand hasn’t been too high and there is an app that allows you to download the audio tour to your cell phone.
On each side of the admission rotunda are display cases that are built into the wall where gifts from foreign countries are displayed. There are three display areas on each side of the rotunda and the gifts are lavish and spectacular.
Adjacent to the entry area is Freedom Hall. Overhead is a 360 degree presentation created by BARCO. The video experience is 21 feet high near the ceiling and wraps around the entire Freedom Hall – 161 feet of the live dots C5 LED display created special for the museum. The program which is about 5 minutes in length runs every 15 minutes. It opens with broad landscapes of Texas and then suddenly morphs into figures of people doing everyday tasks. The figures are so realistic that it is difficult to believe these are not real people doing things on a ledge near the ceiling. At the end of the presentation, these action figures dissolve into a sculpture of the activities.
The museum exhibits concern themselves mainly with activities that happened during the Bush Presidency. His life before the presidency is covered in a few short display panels and doesn’t give much history about the man before Washington, D.C. It is evidenced by the displays that Laura Bush was a significant factor in the presdient’s life and is present in most of his activities once he reached adulthood.
There are several video presentations and interactive video displays that cover the crisis on 9-11 and the Bush reaction to it. Three of the major crises of the administration are covered thoroughly – the 9-11 tragedy, the Katrina storm, and the financial crisis of 2008. A major thrust began by the administration with an acronym of PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan For Aids Relief) is covered extensively. There is a replica of the oval office where visitors are encouraged to have a seat on the couch or to sit behind the desk in the office chair to have their picture taken. Long lines often form for this part of the museum.
Next is a “Decision Points Theater” where the attendee is seated at a video screen that interacts with a main screen in the theater. The main screen shows a specific situation that occurred during the administration. After listening to several advisors, the attendee can choose between several actions that appear on their individual screen. At the end of the exercise, the visitors’ screens are tallied and compared to what the President actually did.
In another video presentation, some of the humorous moments of the presidency is presented. It is a small theater (seating only 16) and there are usually many people standing and watching to show. Laughter is often and spontaneous throughout the show as the President displays his ability to mispronounce and to make fun of himself.
Much of the remainder of the exhibit relates to the Bush family’s time since being in office. There is a video near the exit entitled “A New Call To Action”. The Bush family appears and challenges the viewer to participate in making the world a better place to live.
The exit to the museum is through the gift shop. Restrooms are located in this hallway. Information about hours and admission costs can be found at the Bush Museum website.