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Perspectives from the Field is a platform for the members of our community to share just that - their perspectives. If you are interested in authoring a blog post, please contact us! You can also view our archive of previous blog posts on Google's Blogspot platform.


 

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The Liberia Graffiti Trail

Posted By Crystal Douglas, Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Liberia House sits on what was once one of the largest and most successful plantations in Virginia. The home was built in Manassas, Virginia in 1825 by William James Weir and his wife Harriett Bladen Mitchell Weir. During the Civil War, the home became the headquarters of General P. G. T. Beauregard. As the Civil War concluded, it was one of the few notable structures to remain standing. Today, the Liberia House is a part of the Manassas Museum System. The home and grounds are open for special events and guided tours.

 

In 2014, Civil War graffiti found in the Liberia House was nominated as one of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.” The Virginia Association of Museums’ program promotes awareness of collections care and the efforts of institutions across the Commonwealth of Virginia and District of Columbia to care for their cultural and historical treasures. Selected by public voting, the graffiti was chosen for and featured on the list for Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.

 

We spoke with Lisa Sievel-Otten, the Marketing Coordinator for the Manassas Museum System to get an update on the Liberia House and the discovered war graffiti. Since being featured as a Top Honoree, the Liberia House received positive publicity which has greatly impacted the local perception of the museum. The graffiti has been featured in several local press stories, including the Manassas Observer, the Washington Post Prince William edition, Potomac Local, and has had on-site TV coverage from NBC 4 Washington. The Liberia House was also featured in a local City Connection newsletter and the Manassas Museum newsletter and annual report.

 

The historical site experienced an increase in museum and guided tour attendance with the graffiti as one of the tour highlights. Five descendants of Union soldiers from around the country have come to see the signatures of great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War. These ancestral visits have also generated publicity both in Manassas and in the visitors’ hometowns.

 

Nationally known conservator, Christopher Mills, discovered the graffiti in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Mills went to work uncovering all the stray pencil marks he could find. As he uncovered layers of paint, he exposed drawings, signatures, and even grocery lists on the walls. He then protected several “windows” of graffiti and added interpretive signage which explains the graffiti discovery process and highlights some of the Union soldiers who wrote their names on the walls. In addition to preserving the graffiti, Mills repaired plaster and preserved other walls in the house as well. Structural work helped sustain staircases, chimneys, and the basement, and has made it possible for visitors to tour the home and access the graffiti.

 

The Liberia House has been making strides toward preserving the house and grounds. The site was added to the Manassas Museum System’s Capital Improvement Plan which has enabled them to develop the property as a public park that is accessible to more visitors. Liberia House has received significant donations from donors and foundations like the Breeden Family Foundation, the G.F.W.C Woman’s Club, and other individual donors.

 

Standing as one of the few remaining antebellum structures in Virginia, the Liberia House contains an enormous amount of history. The site is now closed due to restoration of the home and grounds. However, it has been included in the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail. Liberia House expects an increase in promotion and awareness from the alliance, and joint tours with the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail will be hosted when it reopens.

 

More about the graffiti: 

http://www.chrismillsconservation.com/liberia-plantation-house1.html 

More about the plantation: 

http://www.manassascity.org/221/Liberia-Plantation

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Tags:  Civil War  Graffiti  history  Liberia  Virginia museums 

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The Valentines, The Wickhams, and Richmond

Posted By Crystal Douglas, Friday, September 29, 2017

Nothing can harm the integrity of a museum if it is rooted in authenticity. Over the past century, The Valentine has been collecting and preserving some of Richmond, Virginia’s finest and most valuable artifacts. These artifacts range from a nineteenth-century Gothic-style stained glass window to a mid-1980s pant suit designed by Richmond patrons, Sydney and Frances Lewis. Within two floors, the museum features exhibitions that expound on 400 years of Richmond history. Founded in 1898, the museum stands as one of Richmond’s first museums.

 

“This is Richmond, Virginia” is the first exhibit and explores the city’s complex history through rare, local artifacts. As you step into the exhibit, you’ll notice the intricately designed hardwood floor displaying Richmond’s Fall Line through The James River. The city’s Fall Line is where the harder crystalline rock meets the softer sedimentary rock. The James River is the heartbeat of the city. The river has been a vital source in the settlement and operation of Richmond. In this exhibit, you will walk along the “James River” while getting a unique and comprehensive view of antecedent Richmond.

 

Along the first floor is another exhibit called Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond, that celebrates the lives and culture of Richmond’s fairly large Latino community. The lower floor of the museum features a fashion and textile exhibition, Our Hearts on Our Sleeves, and the Valentine cellar, Jazz artifacts, and other significant pieces of the past and present.

 

One of the most significant landmarks of a city is its architecture. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the Wickham House is a classic nineteenth-century neoclassical beauty, standing in modern Richmond, Virginia. The home is an extended part of The Valentine and can only be experienced through a guided tour. The home was commissioned for John Wickham in 1812 to house him and his family of twenty until 1853. Today the home is modeled after the interpreted interior design of Mr. Wickham. The interiors of the home are displayed with bright and pleasant color palettes as well as subtle hints of the family’s wealth. The home’s majestic qualities extend to the sculpture-laced garden directly behind the home.

 

The home was owned by Mann S. Valentine from 1882 to 1892. Mr. Valentine admired culture and history. He displayed his passion for archaeology and ethnography by collecting artifacts, art, and textiles. Valentine’s collection has been rumored to have started with arrowheads and then evolved into sculptures, papers, and furniture as time progressed. Valentine never meant to use the home as a living space, rather a place for him to store his collections for private showings. However, after his passing, Mann S. Valentine opened the space to the public. Valentine left instructions in his will to turn the home into a public space to showcase his collections.

 

Richmond is defined by artifacts. The Valentine has helped maintain the authenticity of the city’s culture. Featured exhibitions allow Richmond natives to engage with the city’s history through objects like vintage benches, and lunch counters where brave individuals once sat to make a difference. Exhibits like Nuestras Historias connect the city’s diverse community with years of Richmond Latino history through objects, interviews, and images. The Wickham house allows visitors to get a glimpse of what life was like in nineteenth-century Richmond, Virginia. The Valentine has been noted to be “the only place to get a great comprehensive history of the city.” Without The Valentine, a lot of the city’s history would simply be lost.

 

Photo Credits: Crystal Douglas

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Tags:  museums  Richmond  VAM Member Feature 

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A Fear of Museums: Choosing Not to Enter

Posted By Dana Metheny, Thursday, August 10, 2017

Recently in the museum field, there has been an uptick in professional discussions about turning to an interactive, visitor-centric focus rather than a collection and conservation focus. Museum professionals are asking themselves what makes a successful experience once a visitor passes through the museum door. But, what about the people who have never stepped into a museum because they are afraid of how they will fit in? Perhaps we should all consider this demographic even more if we hope to grow our attendance numbers and strengthen our support systems for the future.

 

We all understand that progress towards any goal develops on a continuum rather than a single point in time. We learn as we go and we make progress. We try new strategies, then try more new strategies, all the while basing our decisions on learned assumptions. One overarching assumption is often that visitors are at least familiar with museum traditions like space, design, wayfinding, labeling, push-button videos and voice-overs, gift shops, and possibly pamphlets and other “take homes” along the halls between exhibits. Another long-standing assumption that may drive our decisions is that visitors know how to act in a museum. Most people understand not to touch the displays unless prompted or allowed. We expect them to know that they should be quiet, respect other visitors by not interrupting them, follow the designated path through the exhibits, and ask questions if so inclined. We design our exits to go past the gift shop assuming, or rather hoping they will buy something according to their level of interest after they leave the last exhibit space but before they leave the museum. And finally, there is the assumption that using “friendlier” terminology, like “guest” instead of “visitor” will make for a more lasting and personal connection with the public. Over the years, these assumptions have been the foundation of some meaningful and successful work.

 

On the other hand, we can all safely assume that there is a large population of people who have never stepped into a museum because they are afraid of how they will fit in. When they consider going to a museum, the uninitiated may perceive social and physical barriers that make a museum visit seem intimidating, unpleasant, unsafe, and perhaps even threatening. Museum professionals who want to increase and broaden their museum’s audience should be thinking about them, too, in their efforts to build and sustain a larger, inclusive, and loyal museum community.

 

Social barriers can affect the perception of museums in a very significant way. In order to decide that it is all right to enter an unfamiliar museum, people may consider a community’s perceived attitude and opinion about it. The stranger to the museum may seek out public opinion from someone who’s been there before (through personal contact or through the press). Other social factors include availability and cost of transportation, neighborhood location, complicated or tiered admission costs, handicapped accessibility, visible security measures, and staff attitudes and helpfulness towards a diversity of visitors. The uninitiated visitor may not know what behaviors are expected of him and his family. The fear of judgement of others or feeling exposed or out of place, as well as issues like dress code, bringing and restraining lively or bored children, and being afraid to ask questions may be enough to keep new people away.

 

Physical barriers, from a building design perspective, are rooted in tradition. Many well-known, larger museum buildings often reflect the exalted status of artifacts and collections. Special. Grand. Impressive. These design elements can contribute to resistance along with the nuances of style and ornamentation (or lack of it). Wayfinding language and complicated routing can cause anxiety. Angular entrances and pathways through and between exhibits can create disorientation and the very uncomfortable feeling of being lost, isolated, and in the wrong place. Uncertainty isn’t what visitors want to experience in an unfamiliar space. Consider what typically happens when, in an unfamiliar place, people don’t feel “safe.” They may never venture there or anywhere like it again, abandoning those personally risky places for more comfortable, populated, friendly, and acceptable public ones that have elements of design that cater more to strangers and to being anonymous.

 

While it may be true that most visitors to any museum have been to a museum before, many others may be “outside,” considering an experimental visit. They may start by observing from afar, in the lobby, on the grounds, or inquiring of others they know and trust. To help these “strangers” to the museum world, everyone on staff should learn to recognize and take action to ensure that they too can have a successful visit. The greeters, ticket sellers, gift shop cashiers, monitors, docents, lecturers, exhibit and technology designers, reenactors, security personnel, administrators, policy makers, and even the community at large all have the opportunity to make museums a safe, comfortable, and welcoming place especially for the uninitiated museum visitor who ventures inside.

 

When the social and physical barriers in front of brand-new, first-time-ever museum visitors are considered and addressed, it follows that they may find the encouragement they need to step over the threshold and discover a new community—a community which embraces a museum’s relevancy in their lives and fosters an ever-growing appreciation of all that museums have to offer. There is so much to discuss about identifying and tearing down barriers to build and sustain a larger, inclusive, and loyal museum community. This is just the tip of the iceberg. What are your thoughts?

Tags:  Barriers  Discussion  First-time Visitors  Visitor Experience 

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Conference Session Proposals: Reminder and How-to Review

Posted By Dana Metheny, Thursday, August 3, 2017
Updated: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Conferences are fun, there’s no doubt! We all enjoy social networking, meeting new and old friends, going to entertaining museum and community places and enjoying time away from our ordinary routines. But, in addition to all that, everyone wants to learn something new at a conference! And, why not from YOU?!

 

There are a few days left to submit your conference session proposals for VAM’s 2018 50th Anniversary Conference at Norfolk's new luxury waterfront hotel, Norfolk Hilton The Main. #VAM2018. You must submit your session proposal to the Conference Program Committee by Monday, August 7. Submit your session proposal online.

 

We know that museum professionals who have done these proposals before will think creatively about their choice of topics and presentation methods. But, for those of you who are new to presenting at conferences, preparing a presentation can be a bit intimidating. We VAM staffers want to encourage everyone who is passionate about their work to share, share, share their expertise with our member network, because together, we can better meet the unique challenges of our Virginia museum missions.

 

So, here’s a review and reminder of what goes into preparing a session. Once you have the presentation details down, you can write up your proposal and send it forth to the review committee. Doing the prep work in advance will help you remember what you promised and keep you focused as you polish and practice your session closer to the conference dates. Thank you for participating and don’t forget, you can  submit your session proposal online.

 

Let’s get started. Remember, it is a good idea to approach the task at hand by breaking it down into small, manageable parts.

 

  1. Consider your audience first. Whether you have a few topic ideas or you know exactly what topic you want to present, spend some time really thinking about who your information will benefit the most. At the VAM conference, you’ll find a whole range of audience members from active retirees to emerging professionals just starting out.  Does your topic speak to a specific group or is it going to be helpful to everyone? Take time to understand the backgrounds, values, and interests of your audience. Ask yourself what they will expect from your presentation.
  2. Of course, your topic should be one you have great interest in and one you can speak on from experience. Is your expertise drawn from life experience or from extensive research. Including both aspects will make for an inspiring session. You want to encourage others to follow through in some way after you speak. Perhaps they will follow in your footsteps at their own museum. Perhaps they will be compelled to do further research and draw their own conclusions. Don’t be afraid to think beyond the box when you pick your topic!
  3. As you form your session description, write up a one sentence objective that states what you want your audience to learn from you. Consider the prior knowledge of your audience and the time limits you have for the presentation. Use this objective to keep you focused as you develop your presentation.
  4. Define and prepare your main content. So, what will you say about your topic in your defined amount of time? Where do you start and how much detail should you include? The prior knowledge of your audience will dictate this, but regardless, you need to illustrate and support each one of the points you make. Be sure to include variety in your presentation: present data and facts, share quotes from experts, include firsthand experiences, and provide vivid descriptions. If you can inject humor along the way, it helps to break up the serious flow of information and keeps your audience engaged.
  5. After you have the main presentation laid out, only then should you tackle your introduction and final conclusion. The into should state the topic and the purpose of the session. It should reveal what they should expect from you, and capture everyone’s attention in some creative, inviting way. Entice them to settle in and figuratively put them on the edge of their seats. Define what they will learn and how you will impart the information. Then summarize your conclusion with your main points. You know the saying: "Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them." All that comes in the introduction, before you launch into the main presentation. Some ideas for your intro: explain the relevance to the listeners' goals, values, and needs, stimulate thinking with a question, share a personal experience, tell a joke or humorous story, show a cartoon or colorful visual, make a stimulating or inspirational statement, or give a compelling demonstration. During the final conclusion, restate your main points and tie them together so that the audience will remember the most important take-away from your session. In your conclusion, make sure you have delivered your session’s purpose as you promised in the introduction.

The proposal review process is competitive and not all submissions will be selected, so think creatively as you develop it. Keep in mind you can polish the presentation later as the conference dates get closer. Once you get your session idea defined, you can (boldly!) move forward by submitting your proposal on the VAM website. Good luck and thank you for your proposal!

Tags:  Annual conference  museum professionals  professional development  proposals 

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The Quest for Knowledge: Sipping from a Fire Hose

Posted By Dana Metheny, Thursday, July 27, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part of the sheer joy of being a professional is gathering a collection of knowledge and experiences and putting them to real use to take action towards what you passionately believe in. It is a long process full of ah-ha moments and sparks of opportunity that inspire exciting new ideas and insights. Curiosity, questions, research, conversations and debates, and starting or continuing down a solid path of action are the building blocks of dedication to our museum field. When I walk down the corridors and pathways of a museum or historic site, I'm engulfed in interest that colors my every thought. I value what museums do to my mind. Big or small, the sites I visit inspire and invigorate me on so many levels. To me, museums are enriching, stimulating, and compelling. During my visit, I experience a rush of thoughts and questions that light the world afire for me.

 

I often observe other people when I visit museums and I wonder why they are there and what they want to get out of their visit. My career in museums has involved me in visitor orientation, experience, and value issues for a long time. I've gained my knowledge and beliefs from some very dedicated museum people but I have so much more to learn. When I step back and observe visitors, I look for people with the same look on their faces as I often have. You know, that look of discovery, wonder, and extended relevancy. When I see people at the end of their visit, on their way out the door, I search for signs of mental hunger to learn more. Sometimes, it shows itself in an armful of books (that's me!), or in non-stop shared discussions about what they learned and what else they want to look up once they get home. I wish I could find out what, exactly, sparked their passion. Of course, I can't rush after them calling out my earnest questions. I can't join in their discussions uninvited. And it concerns me a lot when I see people leave with empty hands or nothing on their faces. Why did that happen? So, when I get home, I turn to the Internet for answers to my questions.

 

Tapping into the Internet is like trying to sip from a fire hose, of course, and I often get overwhelmed because I can't read everything that looks promising. Evaluating for credibility can slow me down and derail my course. Often, I find that there is a cost for information and I am stopped in my tracks because that cost is prohibitive for an individual, as it is for many museum professionals and even many institutions themselves. Trying to learn is like trying to grab the stream of water from the hose and using it to pull yourself closer to the nozzle! And then, the water turns off and you're left with empty hands and a still hungry, if not sodden, mind.

 

That's where partnerships with other museum professionals come into play. That's where mentors and influencers can make a difference in the life of other passionate professionals who are, hand over hand, making their way up the stream towards understanding, experience, and insight. Partnerships, groups, and associations, professional and social, are keys to the growth of all of us and for our institutions as well.

 

Of course, we know this, but we all have daily operations to attend to and a finite number of hours in a day. And yet, to ensure that our professionals grow strong and forward-thinking, we all need to be influencers on whatever level we can. Silence is not an option of any of us. Participating and engaging matters. The museum field is counting on us all.

 

Let's all remember to lend a hand up to each other and share what we know, what we're learning, and what we are dreaming of for the future of our institutions, both locally and globally. We can do that through conferences, workshops, meetups, discussions and debates, on social media channels, group forums, books and reports, and on our websites, too.

 

So, I'm curious. What are the best resources you use to tap into professional museum information? What do you do to share your passion and knowledge with your fellow museum lovers?

Tags:  Communication  communications 

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The Military Aviation Museum – Where History Takes Flight In Virginia Beach

Posted By Mike Potter, Thursday, April 20, 2017

 

We all know that museums need to be entertaining in order to educate and inspire, so why not combine a dinosaur park with a collection of real flying airplanes from the first half-century of flight? If that’s not enough to get your Walter Mitty dreams stirred up, there may be no hope!

Almost 10 years ago, one man with a passion started creating an amazing place where learning about aviation would be fun. Imagine a museum with multi-million dollar exhibits with no ropes around them. Then imagine old war-planes belching fire and smoke on warm sunny days. Imagine bringing your family to exciting airshows in May, June and October featuring these old planes in flight, live entertainment, and big band dance music. 

Seventy historic airplanes are housed in five major exhibit buildings, two of which are historic. Hundreds of people each year line up to ride in a real open-cockpit World War II trainer over the lovely rural Southern Virginia Beach area. You can too! 
In addition, more than a dozen WWII German planes are housed in an actual 1934 Luftwaffe hangar that was brought over from Cottbus, Germany. 

Seventy-five years ago, just months after Pearl Harbor, the first English air base was turned over to the Americans to create “The Mighty Eighth” air force that fought the air war over Europe. The Military Aviation Museum has the actual control tower from that base, and it is just now being re-erected next to our 5,000 foot grass runway. Walking through historic aviation buildings and touring real  aircraft are two goods ways to understand the sacrifices of the millions of Americans  and their allies who pulled the world from the flames of World War I (Jul 28, 1914 – Nov 11, 1918) and World War II (Sep 1, 1939 – Sep 2, 1945). These are stories that we and our children should never forget. 

While the planes and historic structures will delight aviation fans, the museum entrance offers its own surprise. There, visitors will find a large landscaped dinosaur park with over a dozen 2/3 scale metal sculptures of assorted dinosaurs. A small lake and picnic tables make this a great place to take a family break for lunch. This area is available every day to anyone at no cost.  

With its world-class collection and over 200 volunteers, the Military Aviation Museum delivers a truly unique, welcoming, and fun guest experience. The Volunteer Corps gave the museum 45,000 hours in 2016 alone, and it was named the non-profit “Volunteer Program of the Year for 2017” by Volunteer Hampton Roads. The May 2017 issue of Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine features the Military Aviation Museum on the front cover and in an eight-page feature article. TripAdvisor says it is the only five-star-rated museum in Virginia Beach.

For our first decade as a museum, it’s been a great start. But’s it’s just the beginning! For more information about the Military Aviation Museum, visit u us online at http://www.militaryaviationmuseum.org.

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Tags:  airplanes  dinosaurs  Virginia Beach  World War 2 

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The Birthplace of Country Music Museum Sings On

Posted By Jessica Turner, Thursday, March 16, 2017

One might assume that you’d quickly run out of interpretive content in a museum dedicated to the 1927 Bristol Sessions—the first commercially successful recordings of early country music and their tremendous historic impact.  That assumption would be far from the reality of ongoing work at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.  Our interpretation of the legacy of this significant moment in popular music history extends well before the Bristol Sessions to look at regional music traditions influential to these recordings, and that interpretation continues well after the Bristol Sessions as we explore the many ways traditional Appalachian music, the commercial recording industry, and advances in early sound technologies have shaped American popular music history and our listening experiences.  It’s a great place to explore, but it’s an incredible place to work as we continue to explore, dig, and listen. 

 

Through text and artifacts, film and sound, and interactive displays, the museum’s permanent exhibits tell the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings, explore how evolving sound technology shaped their success, and highlight how this rich musical heritage lives on in today’s music. The Bristol Sessions were the first recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, who quickly became stars in the emerging “hillbilly” genre; these Sessions set the stage for the later commercial country music industry. Within the museum, we integrated diverse interpretive strategies so that visitors can access the content in different ways.  The permanent exhibits comprise traditional panels that marry text, images, and captions, along with the display of relevant artifacts. Each area also has a variety of A/V elements, including soundscapes, theater experiences, short films, and interactives. 


Visiting BCMM’s permanent exhibits is not a passive experience—we want patrons to explore the music in interactive and immersive ways. Sound surrounds visitors throughout their visit. They can delve into local history to set the scene for the Bristol Sessions, and explore the sounds of the Sessions though clips of the songs issued by Victor Records. In other parts of the gallery, they can listen to the ways later musicians from Lead Belly to Nirvana have arranged some of these classic songs, give those tunes new sounds at the mixing stations, and sing with family, friends, and fellow visitors in the Sing-Along Booth.  Visitors can also view several films, from our orientation film “Bound to Bristol” to other films that thematically dive into our content, such as the films in our Greasy Strings Theater or Chapel.  The “Unbroken Circle” is an immersive theater experience that draws from past and present performances to remind visitors that the music of Appalachia’s past remains part of a vibrant living tradition.  


Our permanent exhibits also feature a working radio station, WBCM Radio Bristol, a low power FM station fitted out with local radio equipment from the 1940s. Live programming allows patrons to see radio staff and performing musicians in the sound booth and studio during their museum visit. It is a great asset to the exhibits and a wonderful way to illustrate the power of radio in American music history, rendering our exhibits and collections alive through ongoing performances and broadcasts. Our “Farm and Fun Time” Radio program brings the historic radio program from the 1940s and 50s to contemporary audiences through a live broadcast show that features music, recipes, and local farmers in ways that connect to the strengths of community identity and cultural traditions. 


Radio Bristol and its pinnacle show “Farm and Fun Time” serve to advance the mission of the museum by providing educational and cultural content through innovative programming. Just like our work in the museum exhibits and throughout our organization’s initiatives, Radio Bristol programming aims to present historic content in way that resonate with today’s audiences and engage people in thinking about arts, history, and how these connect to the communities in which they live. 


Our programming addresses several important issues in the fields of museums, music history, and folklore as it bridges the gaps between the physical artifacts that make up the museum’s collections, and exhibits with initiatives born from our digital archives and live performance broadcasts. The museum has large audio collections, especially of legacy sound recordings and oral histories, and our interpretive programs such as live radio shows enable our team to delve deeper into our content and share significant and engaging materials with our audiences. This multidisciplinary, multiplatform effort is an important public history effort and illustrates the critical importance of museums and collections to the performing arts and community histories.  


As a new museum institution (we opened in 2014), our exciting work is just beginning.  We invite you to learn more about us at birthplaceofcountrymusic.org, or listen to our broadcasts at listenradiobristol.org.  

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Tags:  Birthplace of Country Music Museum  Bristol  country music  music  VAM 2017 conference 

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Poplar Forest: Historical Interpretation

Posted By Mary Massie, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thomas Jefferson designed his octagonal villa at Poplar Forest as a personal retreat. At Poplar Forest, Jefferson was able to concentrate on the things that meant the most to him: studying, reading, writing letters, designing much of the University of Virginia and spending time with two or three of his grandchildren. Here he was able to achieve the peace he desperately craved after retiring from public service. Unlike Monticello, the home he built in the 1770s in Albemarle County, Poplar Forest was an unknown piece of property to most but Jefferson’s close family. At Poplar Forest, Jefferson didn’t have to worry about hoards of visitors showing up daily needing to be entertained. Here Jefferson could relax.

 

However, Poplar Forest was much more than just Jefferson’s private retreat. It was also his most profitable plantation. From the time he inherited the property in 1773 until he bequeathed it to his grandson, Francis Eppes in 1823, the 4,819 acre property was a tobacco and wheat plantation. Its proximity to the James River made shipping hogsheads of tobacco to Richmond relatively easy. Of course, its use as such a plantation necessitated the practice of slavery. At the height of its production, Poplar Forest was the home to roughly 94 enslaved individuals who mainly worked in the tobacco and wheat fields. The dichotomy of the property as both a working plantation that required the use of enslaved labor and as a personal retreat used as a getaway for the master has demanded a new view of the property. As the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest works to incorporate the lives of the enslaved men, women, and children who called the property home into the interpretation of the site, a big opportunity has presented itself to help facilitate this challenge.

 

Poplar Forest’s next big project will further the exploration of the intertwining of the enslaved population’s work on the property with Jefferson’s use as a retreat. Beginning in 2017, the Poplar Forest Parkway Project will break ground on a new access road to the site. The Poplar Forest Parkway project will not only create a more visible entrance onto the property, but will allow visitors to travel almost 2 ½ miles through fields used to grow the cash crops Jefferson needed to maintain his lifestyle. The Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest currently owns roughly 617 acres of Jefferson’s original property, but until now, only about 50 of those acres have been accessible for interpretative opportunities. With the creation of our new entrance parkway and the addition of numerous walking trails, Poplar Forest is thrilled to explore new ways to better interpret the economics of the slave system and how Jefferson himself grappled with the institution he loathed yet profited from his entire life.  

 

Poplar Forest is thrilled to be hosting the VAM Historic House Forum this year. Along with showcasing some of the new interpretations that have been created in the past few years, a panel discussion with staff members from several historic house sites throughout Virginia will illuminate ways different sites are reinterpreting their venues. The day will begin with a tour through Jefferson’s beloved retreat home, followed by a boxed lunch in our Visitor Orientation Center where participants can discuss amongst themselves their impressions of the site. The main event, a panel discussion will follow lunch around 1 p.m. featuring speakers from Poplar Forest, Menokin Foundation, Stratford Hall, and James Madison’s Montpelier and will take place in Jefferson’s historic dining room, a perfect 20’ cube in the center of the Poplar Forest villa. The day will conclude with participants taking an Enslaved Community Tour, seeing parts of the property not included on the house tour. 

 

The VAM Historic House Forum is a great opportunity for participants to hear first-hand from several historic sites how they are taking advantage of new interpretive prospects. Hear the latest news about how each of these sites are interpreting their properties differently and converse with other participants about their impressions and ideas of how historic sites can better interpret their complete stories. The Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest hopes you’ll join us for this exciting and unique opportunity to get personal insight into developing interpretation ideas. 

Tags:  historic house  museums  preservation  VAM  VAM 2017 conference 

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National D-Day Memorial

Posted By John Forsythe, Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The National D-Day Memorial, dedicated by President Bush on June 6, 2001, pays tribute to the Allied Forces who took part in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It has hosted over 1.5 million visitors from the world over. 

 

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, over 150,000 troops made their way to the coast of Normandy. Out of the 170 soldiers in company A, 91 died, 64 were wounded, and only 15 were able to continue fighting. Most were killed within the first fifteen minutes of the assault. Of the 37 Bedford soldiers in Company A, 19 died on D-Day, as well as another soldier from company F, thus accounting for the highest per capita loss from any single community in the United States.

Fifteen years later, the Memorial is continuing in its original mission of honoring the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied Forces who participated in the Normandy invasion. Yet, it is important to note, we do not preserve the story simply for its own sake, historically momentous as it was, but rather for how it informs the world we live in today, and what it has to tell the future. We live with the effects of D-Day every day; the freedom and opportunity enjoyed by so much of the world was reborn in the first steps of Allied soldiers on Normandy’s beaches more than seven decades ago. A list of major international powers today reveals the presence of nations that over seventy years ago were either firmly under the fascist boot-heel or mightily resisting the same fate. The success of those same nations today was set in motion by millions of ordinary men and women on a single extraordinary day. The power of people, of individual courage, of innovation, these are the lessons D-Day offers the future. 

In keeping with those lessons, the Memorial has embarked on exciting new initiatives as it enters the four-year commemoration phase of WWII’s 75th anniversary. Working with the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, the Memorial is already planning for the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019, an event that will bring international attention and most likely the last and largest gathering of Normandy veterans in the country. The event represents one of the last, best opportunities for dialogue about this pivotal moment in history between large numbers of those who lived it, those who study it, and those who live with its effects.

The Memorial is also working closely with the commission in the planning of a series of teacher symposiums in 2017 as well as panel discussions that focus on the future of WWII heritage sites once the WWII generation is no longer with us. Among our most recent initiatives on site is the creation of a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. This latest addition will be dedicated on Memorial Day 2017 and will honor Gold Star families who have sacrificed so much throughout our history.
The Memorial has embraced virtual learning through the Field Trip Zoom platform and has partnered with Google through the Google Cultural Institute and Google cardboard projects to make the Memorial more interactive. With a large collection of artifacts, our goal is to show as much as we can virtually and to provide an added resource to teachers and students. The Memorial’s virtual programming will have reached out to over 200 classrooms in downtown Chicago alone by the end of this year (the program just launched a few months ago).

The National D-Day Memorial will host the Virginia Association of Museums’ Scholarship Fundraiser Saturday, March 18th, 2017 from 4:30-7:30pm.  Enjoy a guided twilight tour of Bedford’s National D-Day Memorial, which is rarely open during evening hours.  A festive USO-style reception featuring refreshments, live music, and the opportunity to meet several heroes of WWII will cap off the evening. 

 

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Tags:  Bedford  D-Day  museums  National D-Day Memorial  va monuments  VAM 2017 conference  virginia  World War 2  WWII 

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VAM Champions: Bill Obrochta

Posted By Bill Obrochta, Friday, January 6, 2017
Updated: Thursday, January 5, 2017

We are pleased to present a new theme within our Perspectives from the Field blog, celebrating VAM Champions. VAM Champions are leaders in our field who epitomize excellence. Look for these sprinkled throughout the year and take some time to get to know your colleagues in the Virginia museum community.

 

This post focuses on Bill Obrochta, director of education at the Virginia Historical Society. Bill is also a former vice-president on the VAM board. We asked Bill some fun (and some serious) questions to learn more:

 

1. If you could give yourself a new job title that best describes what you do, what would it be? 

Museum Educator/Events Manager

2. What is your favorite VAM moment?
 
It is not exactly a moment, but I served on the VAM Council for six years and thoroughly enjoyed every minute, most notably the council meetings. I was on the board with a number of smart, funny and dedicated professionals, who made the work fun. And I enjoyed my interactions with other members at the annual conferences and workshops. Through VAM, I have been able to meet so many bright and talented individuals who share my commitment to museums and love of learning.   

3. What’s on your bookshelf right now? 

 

For my book group, M Train, by Patti Smith and Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. For work, Most Blessed of Patriarchs, by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf, and Tom Buckley’s Establishing Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Statute in Virginia.   

4. What is your superpower? 

If I have a superpower, I guess it is my ability to fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. My wife is both amazed and envious. The superpower I always envied is the one that Harvey possesses in the old Jimmy Stewart movie—which is the ability to stop time. Actually, Harvey didn’t stop time for everyone—just for him. He was able to leave the present for a day, a week, or several years, do what he wanted to do, and then go back to that original moment. I am working on this as part of my new time- management strategy.      

5. Why does VAM matter to you?

 

VAM is the best state museum association in the country. It does so much to ensure that its members receive quality resources about professional development, career growth and museum advocacy. VAM helps all Virginia museums perform at the highest possible level.     

6. What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
 
I think I would have told myself not to be intimidated by technology and not to be resistant to technological change. I should have told myself that becoming technologically competent was just another form of learning.  

 

7. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

Probably Scotland. I’m intrigued by the landscape—the Highlands, moors, peat bogs, lochs, firths—or maybe I’m just intrigued by the words they use to describe the landscape. It also helps that I can speak the language—at least well enough to read the signs. Of course, I’m not sure what I would eat. And I hate bagpipes. So on second thought, I think I’ll go to New Orleans.
 
8. Three words that describe VAM?

Friendly; Professional; Cost-efficient
 
9. Why museums?

Museums remind us of what is truly important. They have the ability to speak to the human condition in ways unlike any other institutions in our society. As an educator in a history museum, I get a great deal of satisfaction in helping audiences—students, teachers, and members—talk about the meaning of the past and how it resonates today.

Tags:  museum professionals  Richmond  Virginia Association of Museums  Virginia Historical Society 

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