The Loudoun Museum Board of Trustees presented a hopeful future to Leesburg Town Council Monday night, earning council’s confidence to renew the downtown building’s lease.
Council hosted a roundtable work session to discuss how the town could work with the museum once it reopens.
“You can get to a point where a museum is good enough, and I think that Loudoun County wisely, in conjunction with the town, decided that what was good enough is not good enough anymore,” said Michael O’Connor, the board’s director. “Our objective is to make [Loudoun Museum] a success.”
The Loudoun Museum has faced an array of hurdles in the recent past. After struggling for funds for several years, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors required the museum in 2016 to meet fundraising and outreach goals in exchange for government funds. This July, the board dismissed the museum’s executive director, and the staff resigned shortly after. The museum has been closed since July, with the board interviewing about a dozen candidates for executive director and narrowing its choices down to three.
The museum also has faced issues attracting community interest and inventorying artifacts. While the museum has a collection of 8,000 items, including a variety of historic textiles, only 1,000 items have been assessed for their historical significance.
On Monday night, O’Connor and the board presented a vision for a museum that will host changing exhibits and be more “experience-based” to attract younger generations. The board plans to bring traveling exhibits to places such as Dulles Town Center and One Loudoun. It also will go into schools and partner with several local historic groups, including the Balch Library.
“We have to try to reflect our children’s passions,” board member Sharon Virts said. “We have to be relevant to be sustainable.”
Council responded positively to the board’s presentation.
“We feel that Loudoun Museum is an important institution, but it’s been underutilized for many years now,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “We have great expectations and think that this is going to be a great decision for the downtown.”
The other council members present were intrigued by the board’s ideas, as well. Councilwoman Vanessa Maddox recommended that the museum include a teen tour guide program and a strong social media presence for Generation Z, and Councilman Fernando “Marty” Martinez recommended more communication and interaction between the museum and town.
When Burk asked council for head nods to consider renewing the lease as-is during its Sept. 25 meeting, all but Councilman Ron Campbell agreed.
“I think it needs further review,” he said. “I’m not ready to agree to it tonight.”
O’Connor is optimistic that the Board of Supervisors will vote to provide the museum $156,000 in fiscal 2019 funds during its Thursday night meeting. In exchange, the museum will need to raise $66,500 of its own funds, incorporate recommendations from its consultation with the American Alliance for Museums, include attendance numbers in its annual report and further maintain its collection.
O’Connor expects the museum to reopen some time in October. The museum’s popular Hauntings tour is still set for this year—with a new and spooky take.
While O’Connor and the board are excited to have local government’s support, he believes that the final success of the Loudoun Museum will rest on the community.
“We need people to be involved,” O’Connor said.