The Virginia Association of Museums Releases Statement on Montpelier

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The Virginia Association of Museums Releases Statement on Montpelier 

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, APRIL 8, 2022 --  The Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) releases the following statement about recent events at Montpelier and the actions taken by The Montpelier Foundation, which manages James Madison’s home in Orange, Virginia:

In February 2019, James Madison’s Montpelier, in partnership with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, launched the first interdisciplinary National Summit on Teaching Slavery. Over one weekend, a group of educators, curators, scholars, activists, museum and historic site professionals, and descendants of enslaved and freed people gathered to develop a model rubric for best practices in descendant engagement and slavery interpretation. 

In 2021, The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) further acted upon the guiding principles articulated in this rubric by confirming in its bylaws a commitment to establishing equality and shared authority with the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC) in the governance of Montpelier.  This commitment to co-equal stewardship with the MDC positioned TMF as a leader in the movement to recognize the descendants of those enslaved at historic sites. This commitment also signaled an important shift in the leadership and stewardship of museums and sites of enslavement.   

Despite these previously articulated commitments, on March 25, 2022, TMF voted to change its policy of shared governance with the MDC. VAM believes that all museums must respect and work closely with the diverse communities they serve. Accordingly, VAM stands with all the descendants of those enslaved at Montpelier and supports this diverse community’s right to define itself. VAM further urges TMF to honor their promise to the MDC and to treat them as full and co-equal partners in the governance of Montpelier.

A museum’s reputation and the public’s trust in its integrity are fundamental, essential, and critically important. Actions which undermine this trust irreparably harm relationships between historical organizations and all the communities they serve, most particularly descendants and other underserved communities.

VAM also recognizes that the 2019 National Summit on Teaching Slavery, as well as other important work at many historical organizations that has been guided and informed by this effort, continues to provide tremendous value and benefit to museums and the communities they serve.  In the coming months, VAM will use the rubric created at this Summit, as well as other relevant materials, as a framework to support Virginia’s museums in implementing strategies that ensure all communities are equitably represented at museums, historic sites, and cultural organizations throughout our Commonwealth.

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Founded in 1968 as the Virginia History Federation, today the VAM is the largest statewide museum service organization in the United States, with over 2,500 members. Based in Richmond, Virginia, VAM fulfills its mission of helping the museum community succeed by focusing on professional development opportunities for museum professionals and on advocacy at the state and national levels. These initiatives include an acclaimed annual conference, a robust workshop series, a respected professional certification program, a growing Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program, and an engaging Advocacy Day experience.  VAM is also presently implementing a comprehensive DEAI Initiative.