Something different is happening on the Clinton Presidential Center's third floor. Mere steps away from where visitors wander through the replica Oval Office and take souvenir pictures, there's an opportunity for a very different photo op. After pretending to be the president, visitors can sit on a familiar orange couch accompanied by a rug and coffee table and pretend to be one of the Friends.
It's just the first introduction to "... Like It's 1999: American Pop Culture in the 1990s," a celebration of everything from Koosh balls to Britney Spears, with some Seinfeld and Titanic thrown in for good measure.
Like It’s 1999: American Pop Culture in the 1990s
Saturday-May 17, Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $10; college students, ages 62 and older, retired U.S. Military $8; children 6-17, $6; active U.S. Military free
On any given day, the Clinton Presidential Center is an examination of the 1990s. Bill Clinton's presidential race and presidency covered the decade from 1992 through the dawning of the new millennium so, naturally, exhibits address the politics, the policies, the major events.
But, starting Saturday, the center is taking a look at the 1990s through a different, more light-hearted lens.
"The '90s is a positive decade," explains curator Christine Mouw. "It was economically prosperous. It was before 9/11. It was a different era, before life changed."
The exhibit is, Mouw says, a look at the decade's pop culture, how events affected pop culture and how pop culture influenced America.
The Clinton Center's collection includes masses of pop culture-related items, given as gifts during the Clinton presidency, and all have been preserved and stored. The collection itself is, Mouw explains, a "time capsule of the 1990s." But many of those objects don't fit the tone and subject of the center's more serious permanent exhibits. The 400 Koosh balls and mounds of Beanie Babies don't really have a place in the Cabinet Room.
"We were trying to think of a way we could get these things out on exhibit, too," Mouw says.
There's a wave of 1990s nostalgia right now, heightened by the hoopla around the Friends 25th anniversary, so the timing seemed right.
"The permanent exhibits give you that presidential angle," explains Clinton Foundation Communications Manager Ben Thielemier. "This exhibit is such a perfect opportunity, perfectly timed, to expand further and have a fully encompassing view."
Starting in January, they began searching out anything that screamed "1990s."
The Friends couch and surroundings are reproductions, not the props used on the show itself, but only a very small number of reproductions were made so getting to sit on the couch and take a photo is a unique opportunity.
In the third-floor temporary exhibit gallery, the walls have been painted in vivid pink, yellow, green and blue to enhance the avalanche of nostalgia.
The stage is set at the beginning with a brief look at 1990s major events, to ground and remind people: the O.J. Simpson trial, Princess Diana's death, the Y2K scare.
To illustrate, they've borrowed items like a piece of the Berlin Wall from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. But they've also borrowed some rather bizarre souvenirs like the Norman Schwartzkopf cologne named Norman and suspenders with Mikhail Gorbachev's picture on them.
Once the groundwork is laid, it's on to the main exhibit, which is broken down into topics: print media, fashion, movies, TV, music, technology, toys and games.
Through the exhibit, there are a series of games designed by Little Rock Games especially for the Clinton Center to give the exhibit an interactive element.
In the print media section, there's a giant '90s-theme crossword puzzle on vinyl with magnetized letters. In toys and games, there's an old-style street-fighter video game with hand-held controllers: a robotic Socks and Buddy duking it out on the White House lawn with an audience of cats and dogs. Then, on the floor all throughout, there are giant pieces with trivia, logic puzzles and photo games people can try.
Many items in the exhibit come from the collection but some were borrowed from movie and TV studios. They also raided eBay in search of period magazines so they could hang covers on the walls. The fashion section has a reading rail with laminated fashion magazines people can flip through.
But others were sourced from Clinton Center employees and their networks of friends and families raiding their own attics and closets.
It should be, Mouw says, a personally relatable exhibit for people who were alive and sentient during the decade.
"That's what I love doing with exhibits," Mouw says. "Helping people remember something and how they relate it to things that were going on personally, getting to people through objects to spark memories and to interact with history."
In the fashion section, visitors may have fond memories by seeing a pair of Doc Martens or a slip dress. Over in toys and games, the Tickle Me Elmo and Furby could bring up childhood longings and excitement. Or a hacky sack might conjure memories of games on the lawn in college.
People young and old can marvel at the change in technology, seeing the evolution from an enormous bag phone from the early 1990s to the smaller cells by the end of the decade.
Through it all, the Clinton presidency takes a back seat. This is about daily life.
The music section is particularly diverse, touching on many genres including rap, pop, country and rock. There's an early tour outfit belonging to Britney Spears, a jumpsuit worn by Sean Combs, a Lorrie Morgan music video dress.
"It will be a really expansive section," Thielemier says.
The movie and TV areas are very full, thanks to the generosity of movie and TV studios as well as some items from the collection itself.
People can see:
• Rose's (Kate Winslet) boarding dress, hat and parasol from Titanic
• Forrest Gump's running outfit
• A dress worn by Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire
• Hammond's (Richard Attenborough) amber-headed cane from Jurassic Park
• A Rockford Peach uniform worn by actress Anne Ramsay in A League of Their Own
• Scripts from The West Wing and Northern Exposure
• George's (Jason Alexander) driver's license, a license plate and Elaine's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Jerry's (Jerry Seinfeld) American Express cards from Seinfeld
• From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a stake and Angel's (David Boreanaz) claddagh ring
• Scully's (Gillian Anderson) FBI badge from The X-Files
The list goes on.
Mouw says, "I hope people have fun. I hope that it's a walk down memory lane. It's a positive decade, a fun decade. I hope we can help people relive some of that."
Weekend on 11/21/2019