Introducing the reimagined Virginia Museum of History & Culture
Published 1:36 pm Thursday, December 30, 2021
In May 2022 the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) will re-open after the most extensive and transformative renovation in its nearly 200-year history. Renewed and reinvigorated, the VMHC will offer a dramatically expanded, welcoming and innovative museum experience for all visitors to engage with a shared past and the stories that connect Virginians and Americans. Through its nationally significant collection of more than 9 million objects, renowned research library, galleries and public programs, the VMHC is committed to serving and authentically reflecting all Virginians and demonstrating the centrality of Virginia to the narrative of the United States.
Designed to engage, inform and inspire, the new museum recognizes that history is personal, and that the most effective way to communicate is to ensure that all visitors see themselves at the museum — in its objects and stories. The VMHC looks to open minds young and old, offer different perspectives and make connections between yesterday and today by presenting history through a fresh and accessible lens.
Nearly two-thirds of the VMHC’s 250,000-square-foot building has been renovated, and additions have been built upwards, while the ground footprint has remained the same. This $30+ million transformation allows for a grand two-story entrance atrium; an immersive orientation theater; some 50% more exhibition space to accommodate an exciting mix of long-term and changing exhibitions; an entirely new research library; several community meeting and gathering spaces; a new campus connector between the VMHC and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; an enhanced green space; and a new café and museum store, among other amenities.
“We look forward to sharing the remarkable product of this most transformative effort — celebrating the reimagination of your Virginia Museum of History & Culture this spring,” said VMHC President & CEO Jamie Bosket. “The VMHC is for everyone, and its array of new experiences, new exhibitions and new spaces were all thoughtfully conceived and produced to offer new and engaging ways to discover the past — to welcome all and reflect all Virginians.”
The VMHC is the only institution dedicated to presenting the entire history of Virginia, over time and across regions. The institution is guided in the belief that forging relevant and meaningful connections between the past and present is critical to fostering empathy, perspective, commonality and dialogue for all audiences today and to building a mutually beneficial future. Its comprehensive and diverse collection of national treasures — including art and decorative arts, maps, music, manuscripts, photographs, family papers, military records, furniture, textiles and more — continues to grow through gifts and acquisitions.
In conjunction with its grand re-opening, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture will debut multiple new exhibitions and galleries that present new approaches to understanding the distant and not-so-distant past. Our Commonwealth, a marquee long-term exhibition, is the centerpiece of the museum’s new offerings. It will provide an in-depth, multi-sensory exploration through the five major regions of Virginia, featuring stories and artifacts from partner organizations and cultural institutions throughout the state — a unique approach to exhibition development. Our Commonwealth will launch audiences on a memorable and scenic journey, thanks to living murals — large-scale, changing digital projections — and custom soundscapes that will immerse them in the arts, culture, food, music, industry and people of each region.
In preparation for Our Commonwealth, the VMHC has invested in developing robust regional partnerships with institutions around the state. Among these statewide partners are the Lynchburg Museum and Fredericksburg Area Museum (Central Virginia); Office of Historic Alexandria and Manassas Museum (Northern Virginia); Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockbridge Historical Society (Shenandoah Valley); Blue Ridge Institute and Museum and WKMA/Never the Same Museum (Southwestern Virginia); and Historical Society Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Mariners’ Museum and Park (Tidewater Virginia). These rich and inspiring collaborations have led to enhanced curatorial insights and have increased the depth of connection with the five regions of the state.
The VMHC is also focused on long-term collections partnerships with the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia and the American Civil War Museum, both of which allow the museum to provide a more comprehensive look at Virginia’s past. In addition, the museum is a key partner with educators across the state, enhancing the stories that can be told and supplementing the curricula that is pivotal for developing an informed citizenry. With history happening around us all the time, the VMHC is uniquely situated to collect, preserve, analyze and share it in compelling and truthful ways.
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture also recently established The Commonwealth History Fund, a unique way for the VMHC to support history education and preservation in communities across the state. Through this new grantmaking program, the VMHC will provide millions of dollars to empower history-minded organizations and activities, invest in underrepresented history and encourage greater statewide collaboration. The Fund will provide nearly $400,000 annually in grants to history organizations and projects across the state, and up to $2,000,000 in its first five years of operation. The Fund was created principally through generous funding from Dominion Energy.
In addition to Our Commonwealth, other exhibitions opening in May 2022 include American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, a Smithsonian-organized exhibition that will dynamically bring the great American experiment of democracy to life; Treasures of Virginia, which will feature remarkable objects associated with Virginians who, through extraordinary leadership and creativity, have worked to shape the future of both our state and our nation; Cheers, Virginia!, a project that explores alcohol crafting and consumption practices in Virginia across time; a new interactive learning space for the museum’s youngest guests; and History Matters, an introductory exhibition that speaks to the ways history connects us all. There will also be a new orientation theater screening Virginia: As Far As You Can Imagine, a spectacular 17-minute film highlighting indelible moments and scenes in Virginia history that serves as an introduction to the reimagined museum.
In early 2022 the museum will release details of its grand re-opening plans, which will include a series of preview events in early May, followed by a full public opening celebration with live music, free admission and family activities the weekend of May 14 and 15, 2022.