Exterior rendering of “The People’s House: A White House Experience.”

White House Historical Association Launches $85.5 Million Campaign for Interactive Facility

The People’s House, set to open next year, arrives with a substantial fundraising effort, from small-dollar members to big-ticket naming rights.

The White House Historical Association has announced plans for a multimillion-dollar facility designed to give visitors a sense of the full scope of life in the White House.

“The People’s House: A White House Experience” was announced by WHHA on Nov. 3. Located on a 33,000-square-foot, three-floor site a block from the White House, the museum and interactive experience will display elements of the building that are off-limits on official tours, including replicas of the Oval Office and Rose Garden. The facility is scheduled to open in fall 2024.

The replicas of key White House spots will mix with more interactive galleries. For instance, according to Washingtonian magazine, blank wall spaces can become situation rooms where, “you’ll sit at one end of a table where a President and their cabinet will discuss a weighty issue like the Cuban Missile Crisis during John F. Kennedy’s term.”

It gives us an added capacity by multiples from what we’ve ever had before.

Stewart McLaurin, White House Historical

WHHA President Stewart McLaurin said the association’s 16-member board began conversations about the facility approximately two years ago and signed off on the plan this spring. “Our board and staff determined that we needed a more robust platform to tell stories and engage the public,” he said. “It just gives us an added capacity by multiples from what we’ve ever had before.”

“Using new technology and media, we will spotlight the unique ties each visitor holds with our nation’s most iconic building,” said Nick Appelbaum, president and CEO of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, which is designing the exhibits, in a statement. “Our goal is to create a meaningful connection between the broader story of our nation and the individual experiences of each visitor.”

At a WHHA fundraising gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Nov. 3, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden praised the project. “At its core, this project is about education—teaching our students about our country’s origins, bringing to life the countless people who shaped it and who made the White House into the beating heart of our democracy.”

Though the facility is designed to showcase some of the pageantry of life in the White House—”the enchantment of stepping into a State Dinner, each table shimmering with crystal and candlelight,” as Dr. Biden said in her remarks—the experience is also meant to spotlight behind-the-scenes elements of life there. According to an Associated Press report, one gallery will explore the housekeepers, laborers, and chefs who work there, and will also discuss the use of slave labor in building the White House.

Building and sustaining the new facility won’t come cheap, and WHHA has launched an $85.5 million capital campaign to cover construction costs, along with an endowment to ensure free admission to the facility. WHHA is privately funded and receives no federal dollars, and in recent years, it has bolstered its fundraising apparatus beyond the Christmas ornament sales it’s best-known for, McLaurin said. In 2015, it also launched a membership program that currently numbers approximately 18,000. 

For the People’s House, WHHA has increased its development staff and also introduced new fundraising ideas—for instance, it will sell naming rights for galleries and other parts of the facility. “Now we have the professional staff on board to do this and maintain the relationships that are necessary for this kind of fundraising,” McLaurin said.

(White House Historical Association)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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