True to the Mission
The latest gift from Forrest Mars Jr. funds reconstruction of the Market House.
An institutional commitment to early American history requires a firm focus on the future, with no irony intended.
It has been that way from the early years of the Restoration, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. proudly measured progress in the 1930s and reflected “that perhaps an even greater value is the lesson [Colonial Williamsburg] teaches of the patriotism, high purpose and unselfish devotion of our forefathers to the common good.”
His sense of progress began, however, in a feeling of loss. Seeing “beautiful and historic places and buildings disintegrating had long caused me very real distress,” he wrote.
But the process of restoration led to a broader consideration of purposes. How do you make the most of bringing the past back to life?
That central question finds an evolving answer. The constructive good we derive from Colonial Williamsburg has to be realized in the context of the current era. “That the future may learn from the past” remains the objective, but in the 25 years of my direct involvement—as either trustee or president—there have been constant reassessments, reappraisals, and almost non-stop innovation.
In part, those fall under the heading of “relevancy,” but we have to be cautious there, too. We must be both creative and true—true, that is, to the core mission of the institution. The result is a rather complex picture, one that delicately blends and balances those dynamics to attract, energize, and educate a diverse audience.
In other words, Colonial Williamsburg must be as inspirational in the present moment as it was when first conceived. This remains our challenge, and our opportunity.
Happily, as described in the Development section of this report, we have achieved considerable success. In 2013, more than 113,000 donors representing all 50 states gave or pledged a total of more than $75 million to support what we do here. This represents an 18 percent increase over the previous year and includes a record $15 million for the Colonial Williamsburg Fund, our most vital source of support for daily operations. This is a most impressive endorsement of our efforts, and I am deeply grateful.
Last year, we saw a 2 percent increase in total ticket revenues, reflecting higher core ticket sales, including single-day, multi-day, and annual passes. A several-year trend of declining visits in our peak summer season was reversed, a most gratifying and encouraging development.
More than 208,000 people visited the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg last year, representing an increase of nearly 5 percent. We eagerly look forward to the day when visitation will surely increase once our planned museum expansion becomes a reality. Among other things, a new and far more inviting street-level entrance will more clearly convey what lies within—a vast improvement on the present entrance inside the Public Hospital, the reconstruction of the Commonwealth’s first mental institution.
So how do we repay the faith and support we continue to receive? With institutional efficiency and careful investment.
In our case, you see investments at Colonial Williamsburg in the hard work of a most remarkable collection of people who bring the Revolutionary City to life each day. These talented professionals make Colonial Williamsburg so much more than an extraordinary historical setting by transforming it into a dynamic center of history and citizenship, rich in scholarship and teaching, period architecture, art and artifacts.
In support of their efforts, and with the generous help of our donors, we have dedicated resources for new facilities, new programs, and new exhibits.
The result? New energy throughout the Historic Area, where every facet of 18th-century life presents an opportunity for inspiration.
As the winds of revolution gained strength in early America, daily life encompassed the prosaic and the extraordinary, the familiar and the uncertain.
Such is the seemingly endless ground for our scholars, staff, and guests to explore. How were livings made? What crafts and skills were demanded? How did the colonists spend their leisure time?
And, as the Revolution approached, what would the future hold? How would aspirations of freedom and liberty be fulfilled? What shape would our new nation take, and what principles would we weave into its constitutional fabric? The Historic Area becomes the canvas on which we paint this vivid and complex picture.
In the ongoing effort to deepen the Colonial Williamsburg experience, our benefactors continue to make a huge difference. For example, I am delighted to announce that we are bringing back one of Colonial Williamsburg’s most beloved icons, the windmill. Thanks to Raleigh Tavern Society member David McShane of New Hope, Pennsylvania, we will have a newly reconstructed—and operable—windmill at the entrance to Great Hopes Plantation. As soon as 2015, this structure will be visible for all to see above the Colonial Parkway, across the bridge from the Visitor Center.
Last year, trustee and philanthropist Forrest Mars Jr. made it possible to open the James Anderson Blacksmith Shop and Public Armoury. In like manner, he underwrote the reconstructed Tin Shop—the only one of its kind in this country.
This summer, once again with the support of Mr. Mars, we will break ground for a new, outdoor 18th-century Market House and an expansive Marketplace adjacent to the Powder Magazine. This lively commercial space will enhance the sense of community in our Revolutionary City.
Meanwhile, we have also opened two new retail shops in the heart of the Historic Area: the Dubois Grocer, offering light refreshments, and the William Pitt Store, focused on children’s wares. All of these additions reflect Williamsburg’s history as a bustling center of commerce while adding to the comfort and enjoyment of our guests.
We are continuing the successful “High Life below Stairs” dramatic program we piloted last year at Shields Tavern, where we have just expanded the dinner theater offerings to include “The Life of a Jolly Pyrate.” Dining options and entertainment have also expanded at Chowning’s, including an Ale House in the evenings.
And thanks to the support of James McDonnell of Boardman, Ohio, we have also constructed a new outdoor theater space behind Charlton’s Coffeehouse. Our research tells us (no real surprise) that bringing more life to Williamsburg in the evenings adds immeasurably to the experience of our guests. This new space and the programs in the taverns will speak directly to that expressed interest.
To more accurately capture and depict the politically charged atmosphere of colonial Williamsburg, we began our “Revolution in the Streets” programming in March.
This year’s combination of scripted scenes and improvised encounters gives guests a better sense of life in an exuberant emerging democracy, with all the social upheaval that comes with it. On any given day, our guests will encounter fencing demonstrations, military recruitment parties, even an auction, to cite a few possibilities.
And to fully engage the next generation, we have launched our fourth season of RevQuest: Save the Revolution, our interactive, technology-driven game for families. More than 43,000 guests played RevQuest last year—an increase of 16 percent over the previous year.
Earlier versions of the game were designed essentially for the peak summer and spring break visitation periods. But our guests have spoken, and they want more. So this year, we are offering the game for the first time from March 31 through Thanksgiving.
This fourth RevQuest season centers on the French-American alliance, with Benjamin Franklin himself recruiting participants to further the American cause with France. Participants gain insights into that crucial historical alliance and have fun in the process. We expect even more families to take part this year.
In the late 18th century, intense intellectual activity defined colonial Williamsburg. Leaders examined and engaged ideas in a multitude of manners and settings, and we seek to provide no less an experience. The guest speaker series we initiated last year continues, reminding audiences that events in this city shape the governing philosophy of the United States to this day.
On June 16, presidential historian, author, and columnist Michael Beschloss spoke about American history and how it necessarily informs and intertwines with the meaning of American citizenship. To this point, he also addressed more than 100 new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the colonial Capitol.
On September 22, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former head of the United States Central Command, will discuss his upcoming book: “Before the First Shots Are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose off the Battlefield.” General Zinni is also a newly elected trustee of the Foundation and will bring invaluable experience and knowledge to this assignment.
We are also partnering with other historic sites and like-minded institutions to encourage active citizenship and highlight 18th-century Williamsburg’s contemporary relevancy. Among these partners is the Chautauqua Institution in New York, with which we held a lively event in Williamsburg on February 21 and 22 to explore the origins, principles, and challenges of revolution, both past and present. Our next joint program, which will take place July 14–18 at Chautauqua, will use the Egyptian experience as a case study to explore the roles, responsibilities, and trials facing citizens in a 21st-century society with democratic aspirations.
Last year, we launched the Williamsburg–CSIS Forum with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary. As with the Chautauqua partnership, the objective of this conference series is to bring the context of America’s history to a discussion of current issues. The forum gathered Egyptian and American leaders in April 2013 to debate and discuss the Arab Spring. In March of this year, the forum focused on the uncertain political and economic trajectories of the European Union. We plan to hold a conference in 2015 on the challenges and future of African constitutionalism.
We cannot talk about partnerships, of course, without mentioning our collaboration with Preservation Virginia to showcase the rich history and resources of Historic Jamestowne. With our initial five-year agreement now coming to an end, we are working with Preservation Virginia to extend that partnership, through which we continue to enhance public archaeology and the guest experience at this important site of America’s origins.
Williamsburg’s legacy also reaches into the arts. We are working hard to extend that as well—not only through our ongoing series of superb exhibitions at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, but also through our partnerships with the Virginia Arts Festival and the Williamsburg Symphonia.
In February, we opened “A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South” at the museums. Curated by Ron Hurst and Margaret Pritchard, two of Colonial Williamsburg’s most respected scholars, this blockbuster exhibition represents the largest and most comprehensive presentation of early southern material culture ever mounted. We are grateful to Raleigh Tavern Society members Carolyn and Mike McNamara of Williamsburg, who made this wonderful show possible.
In March, we opened “China of the Most Fashionable Sort: Chinese Export Porcelain in Colonial America.” And we recently unveiled “A Handsome Cupboard of Plate: Early American Silver in the Cahn Collection.” I hope you will be able to explore each of these superb exhibitions. They are true jewels.
Of course, whether you are building a country or studying the art and artifacts of our past, the reach and effectiveness of Colonial Williamsburg’s lessons rely upon teachers far and wide. Improving teaching is central to our mission, and this year we proudly mark the 25th anniversary of our Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. Thanks to the support and advocacy of friends like Bob and Marion Wilson of California—founding supporters of the Institute—we have trained more than 7,700 teachers in creative, hands-on methods of immersing students in discovery of our country’s past and its importance to our future.
If each of these teachers remains in the classroom fifteen years after attending, collectively they will directly impact more than three million students with the lessons they learned in Williamsburg. It is a remarkable success story.
I recently travelled to California to honor the Wilsons, Raleigh Tavern Society Life Members, and those others who have joined with them, for their visionary support of this program. By the end of this year, their generosity will have made it possible for close to 2,800 California teachers to come to Williamsburg for this enrichment opportunity.
The enthusiasm with which so many of our friends have embraced and supported the Teacher Institute makes me optimistic about our determination to change the way history is taught in our schools, to give it new life. This enthusiasm also underlies my optimism about the success of our comprehensive Campaign for History and Citizenship, which we will announce more broadly and in greater detail this fall.
One of our most important decisions last year in helping us reach a wider audience and enlist new supporters was to retain the Martin Agency, a nationally recognized advertising firm based in Richmond, Virginia.
Relying on independently conducted research, these very able professionals are helping us better understand our guests’ inclinations—their likes and dislikes, why they visit, and why others do not. With Martin’s help, we are moving forward with a strategy to attract new guests and encourage all who come here to return more often.
We can never lose sight of what Colonial Williamsburg means to America and the world and the potential it represents. Colonial Williamsburg honors America’s past by exploring and interpreting its myriad social, political, and cultural details. But how we make all that work in the moment—in the present era and the decades to come—remains an ever-evolving process.
Your support is essential to all of these endeavors. Indeed, your support makes Colonial Williamsburg a movement in and of itself. In a steady, sure progression, we better understand and convey to our visitors how one 18th-century Virginia community not only contributed to American leadership, but also inspired the world.
A final note: As you may know, I will be stepping down from this position before too long. I hope you will give my successor, Mitchell B. Reiss, the same confidence, trust, and support that you have given me—and for which I am profoundly grateful.
I feel that I share a very special bond with the extended Colonial Williamsburg family. It is a bond born out of a shared understanding and appreciation of this special place. With your help, this unique institution will continue to make a most valuable and lasting contribution to understanding the genesis of America and the central role of its citizens in shaping our future. For your support of Colonial Williamsburg and your friendship, I thank you.
Colin G. Campbell
President and Chief Executive Officer