New strategic objectives for a new decade
The VHS board of trustees and staff are excited to present the approved strategic objectives that will shape this institution's planning and growth for the next few years. They have been adopted by our governing board with the understanding that we will begin the important work as soon as possible. We will bring together political, social, and economic themes in a comprehensive manner to excite, inspire, and inform our growing and diverse audience about the national and international significance of Virginia's long history.
Built upon a strong foundation of extraordinary collections, effective programming, and a skilled staff, these objectives, and the specific goals related to them, will advance the VHS mission to tell the story of all Virginians, to connect people to the American past, and to prepare the next generation to participate in a successful democracy.
OBJECTIVE I. Tell the Story of Virginia: An American Experience
We will transform our long-term galleries to tell the story of Virginia both on site and online.
Specifically, we will move all office areas from the gallery floor and convert that square footage to public space. The new Story of Virginia exhibition will be designed in a hub-and-spoke fashion to accommodate the many different ways that audiences experience an exhibition and the many different levels of detail they may want.
The reconfiguration, for example, allows us to triple the space currently devoted to interpreting the Civil War. Incorporated under The Story of Virginia umbrella, the gallery expansion allows us to display more Civil War artifacts and provides an important opportunity to encourage conversation about this pivotal chapter in American and Virginia history among all visitors and especially among young people and newcomers to the state.
We will capture history within living memory. While our collections are vast, we recognize that much of the record of the recent past is not written down. It is vital that we collect the source materials that are available in order to fill in the gaps so that future researchers can tell Virginia's story. Oral history is a key component of such an effort, and we are especially encouraging recent immigrants and young people to record their stories. A significant part of this effort will be to offer oral history consulting services to businesses and other organizations.
We will develop a path-breaking web resource entitled Unknown No Longer: A Virginia Slave Name Database from our vast array of records that include material about enslaved persons. The searchable database will include names, occupations, ages, locations, and related surviving information that will aid researchers in identifying a wide community of African Americans from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. We trust that this on-going project will encourage growth in our African American collections and that other institutions may emulate the database by undertaking similar projects with material from their own collection.
OBJECTIVE II. Connect People to America's Past
As with objective one, this second objective involves both on site and online initiatives in order to connect more people with the American past, and to provide more access to our resources. To this end, the VHS has already expanded its public hours.
The historic core of the VHS headquarters faces the Boulevard, Richmond's cultural artery. With the centennial of Battle Abbey in 2012, the time has come to celebrate this face to the community. We will redesign the Boulevard driveway so that approaching vehicular traffic has an unobstructed view of this magnificent historic landmark, and pedestrian traffic has a safe, obstacle-free walkway to the front door. Not only will we make the front terraces more inviting and more available for events and other informal gatherings, but we will restore the galleries to their original grandeur, will highlight the impressive architectural features, and will conserve the monumental Charles Hoffbauer murals.
A new interactive website—myfamilycamefrom.org—will make the VHS a leader in providing resources to the ever-growing community of people discovering their roots. The site will allow people to search for their family history in thousands of digital images of genealogical documents in our collections. They may comment on and share electronic resources. We will refocus our efforts to acquire and process additional genealogical resources with special emphasis on more recent immigrant groups to Virginia.
With an increasing community interest in radio and podcast programs, the VHS intends to collaborate with other institutions to provide a forum in which the lessons of the past can illuminate and provide context for the issues confronting America today. After all, the fundamental cornerstone of a successful democracy is civil discourse, healthy and informed debate about difficult issues. And the VHS is the perfect forum for such an activity to take place.
OBJECTIVE III. Prepare the Next Generation to Participate in a Successful Democracy
Educational programs lie at the heart of our mission. While it is essential that we respond to current needs, the VHS is committed to educating and exciting the next generation by delivering limitless access to the resources of the VHS.
On site, we will fashion a series of family resource areas within our galleries. They will provide spaces for children to explore and create and will offer resources for parents and grandparents to engage and connect with the younger members of their families. We will equip these spaces with interactive and hands-on features to prompt problem-solving, storytelling, and good citizenship.
Additionally, we will create a well-equipped, full-service education center by converting a portion of our ground-level book storage room to compact shelving. This will free up 5,000 square feet, five times the space of our existing classroom. It will be large and adaptable enough to accommodate large groups, and there will be a dedicated, secure entrance on the west side of the headquarters building to provide easy access.
Online, our interactive classroom, HistoryConnects, will deliver educational programs over the internet to maximize outreach and serve people far from our headquarters building. We will produce educational programming for national distribution.
A greater web presence means an overhaul of our website. The Story of Virginia will be more than an online exhibition—it will be the single web portal through which the VHS delivers its many services to constituencies across the state and around the world. We will work to present Virginia's compelling story with a special emphasis on the interests of future generations. Not only do we plan to make the website more appealing to younger audiences, but we also hope to create a more accessible and usable resource for educators and researchers. Particularly, we will incorporate more interactive features and develop a robust single search solution for all VHS collections.
These strategic objectives come out of months of staff and board planning sessions. Data from the online survey, audience evaluations, facilitated discussions, and leadership retreats lead us to believe that these goals are achievable. The Virginia Historical Society is positioned to become the best historical organization in the country so that national and international attention is focused on Virginia's role in the founding of American democracy and the contributions of all Virginians to our shared history.