Historical Society of Western Virginia Case Statement

When Roanoke's Center in the Square opened in 1983 in a renovated 1914 warehouse (the McGuire Building) in the old city market, the Historical Society and Museum became one of five nonprofit "anchors tenants" of this revitalization project. Garnering international and national awards, Center in the Square has fulfilled the city's dream to revive a decaying downtown and boost a flagging cultural community. We now seek to transform the History Museum of Western Virginia into a modern educational experience that will draw people into an exploration of the past. Although current with standards of the early 1980s, the "look and feel" of the museum needs updating to appeal to younger generations and ensure that it is "in step" with Center in the Square's renovation. Throughout this capital campaign, our goal has been to increase accessibility to our collections and exhibitions in order to better fulfill our education mission and reconnect with new audiences in a more meaningful way.

Our vision can be realized in a $1.5 million capital campaign—Crossroads to History. This campaign will completely transform how our audience encounters the history of southwestern Virginia. A new continuing exhibition will incorporate the best in interpretive and technical standards while revealing 10,000 years of our region's cultural heritage through artifacts that span the whole human experience from prehistoric times to the present day. Additionally, this campaign will enable the museum to modify our current changing exhibitions gallery to become one large fluid space with ability to reconfigure this space to accommodate special exhibitions of varying scope. For example, upon reopening in 2013 the museum will exhibit a large-scale traveling exhibition developed by the Virginia Historical Society specifically designed to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. In fact, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia will only be exhibited in its entirety here and in Richmond.

Transforming our galleries will also allow us to better showcase our significant collection and create a stronger relationship between our exhibitions and educational programming. A visit to the museum is an important part of the elementary school curriculum and now students will have the opportunity to experience special exhibitions that drill down more deeply into specific areas of our region's history, as well as understand the connecting threads between generations of people living in southwestern Virginia. The juxtaposition of changing exhibitions and common themes is also important for adult visitors, a significant portion of who visit the museum from outside of our region. Adult visitors who live locally can experience something different every time they visit the galleries, while non-local visitors can experience the significant history of this region and how it fits into a national context.

Finally, this campaign will enable the museum to better house and care for its collections. Our organization is a repository for the material culture of southwestern Virginia and we are entrusted with the care of the region's memory in perpetuity. Therefore, it is important that we provide professional grade storage containers and shelving in a climate controlled space. Our collections span 10,000 years of cultural heritage and are used for multiple applications – they may be study items for students or scholarly research, exhibition items at the museum, or loaned to other museums. Reconfiguring our current collections storage will allow for increased accessibility for staff and visitors alike.