There was an air of hopefulness and determination apparent Monday night during a meeting of the Leesburg Town Council and the Loudoun Museum Board of Trustees.
The council had called for a meeting in the wake of turbulence over the past several months that left the museum’s future in question. Early summer saw the termination of the museum’s executive director after just 14 months in the post; the resignations of its remaining staff; and the museum’s indefinite closure. As the museum’s landlord—the town owns the three buildings it occupies and charges only a nominal fee—the council was seeking clarity on the board’s plans for the museum and when its doors are expected to reopen. The current board of trustees had been appointed by the Board of Supervisors in January.
“We realize where we are and we realize how we got there,” Board Chairman Michael O’Connor said. “Our efforts had been to honor the town with what we do. We are all in this. We are all part of this effort right now.”
O’Connor said that the efforts underway by the six trustees include hiring a new executive director; inventorying the museum’s 8,000-piece collection; brainstorming ideas for future exhibits; and establishing partnerships throughout the town and county, by way of schools, nonprofit and community organizations, and more. In addition to the ultimate goal of opening the museum’s doors again and making it a vibrant, relevant destination, O’Connor said the board wants to give the town “a return on your investment.”
Inventorying the museum’s vast collection is its own logistical challenge, trustee Sharon Virts said. Of the 8,000 items in the museum’s collection, about 1,000 have so far been assessed.
“We don’t really know what all we have. We want to keep what’s relevant and return what’s not. We have to be relevant,” she said.
Relevancy is something the museum has struggled with over the years. In addition to not reaching a younger audience, the museum also has been criticized for its shortened operating hours and lack of changing exhibits.
“We need to move things around so it’s not the same story all the time, and have a collection that reflects what our objectives are. We hadn’t stayed current with that,” Virts said.
Interactivity is also key, she said, and recognizing that the younger generations are seeking tangible experiences that they can post about on social media.
Board members shared with the council their varied backgrounds they bring to the table in helping to guide the museum’s future. Some board members have young or high school-aged children, others bring professional experience in staffing and history. All share a passion for museums, they noted. In addition to O’Connor and Virts, other members of the museum’s board of trustees are Sally Travis, Mary Frances Forcier, Eric Boast, and Will Turner.
A decision on a new executive director is expected soon, O’Connor said, with the search down to three candidates from the 25 résumés received. The popular Hauntings tours—the biggest annual fundraising event for the museum—will also be reprised, O’Connor said, but with a twist.
Council members showed excitement and optimism over the direction the board is leading the museum. A need to keep the partnership strong and lines of communication opened between the town and the museum was underscored by both parties.
“The energy, the partnerships you’re talking about are necessary because we can’t keep starting and stopping these efforts,” Councilman Ron Campbell said.
“I’ve been on the Town Council since 2002 and this is the first time I’ve met the board. I think what we need to do between the county, the board and the Town of Leesburg is we need to talk a little bit more. We need to get more involved,” Councilman Marty Martinez said. “We shouldn’t just say ‘here’s a building for $1 a year;’ we should be part of your growth and expansion.”
O’Connor vowed that the Town Council would not be disappointed.
“We’re not going to let you down,” he said. “Our objective is to make this a success.”
Next up for the museum board will be a meeting later this week with its main funding source—Loudoun County. Trustees will attend the Board of Supervisors’ Thursday meeting.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox and Councilman Tom Dunn were absent for Monday night’s meeting. A formal vote on renewing the museum’s lease is expected at the council’s Sept. 25 meeting. All council members present Monday night voiced support for continuing to lease the space to the museum, though Campbell said the document needs further review.