County Supervisors Renew Loudoun Museum Funding

A few days after a rosy reception at the Leesburg Town Council—and two months after closing the center indefinitely—the new Loudoun Museum board of trustees last week won funding from a reluctant Board of Supervisors.

“I was pretty close to saying, ‘we’ve been doing this for a long time, and I am now done,’” said Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) during the Sept. 20 meeting. She said she could vote to extend the museum’s funding only on the strength of the people in the new board of trustees, which was appointed in January.

The new board includes Michael O’Connor, Sharon Virts, Sally Travis, Mary Frances Forcier, Eric Boast, and Will Turner. Since the new board started, the museum has seen a shakeup, including the firing former Executive Director Leslie Mazeska, the resignation of the rest of the museum staff, and the decision to close the museum’s doors indefinitely.

O’Connor told supervisors the museum has to have “the right people, the right finance, the right programs, and the right attitude.”

“A museum is a vibrant, living thing, and it’s not just bayonets bombs and bullets,” O’Connor said. “It’s really an outreach to children, to visitors—it’s an international effort, truly.”

In 2015, the Board of Supervisors approved supplemental funding for the Loudoun Museum—something the county government had done repeatedly in the past. Supervisors expressed growing frustration over the center’s operations and an agreement as drawn up in 2016 to give the museum $156,000 a year for three years, contingent on meeting quarterly benchmarks, and renewing annually. In 2017, the county staff found the museum had been meeting its benchmarks and supervisors renewed the agreement.

This year, despite disruptions at the museum, county staff members expressed confidence in the museum and recommended renewing the agreement again.

Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) asked county staff members to look into whether the county would be better off taking over the museum.

O’Connor said $156,000 “is a number that we can deal with.”

“My first analysis, when we first started talking about this, is that I think $156,000 is probably not enough,” O’Connor said. “If we want a museum, we have to pay for it.”

The day of their meeting with the trustees, county supervisors received a letter from Mazeska saying the new trustees “lack the commitment, vision, and ability to effectively govern the institution as demonstrated by the actions they have taken over the past 9 months.”

Mazeska said she and the former museum staff had made progress during their tenure, and painted a picture of politically-connected trustees.

At the meeting Sept. 20, Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said the museum has real, longstanding problems.

“I think the overwhelming majority of our citizens don’t know it exists,” Buona said.

And Randall said she was shocked about missing pieces in the museum’s story of Loudoun.

“I am always shocked at how little-to-no information there has been about the enslavement in Loudoun County,” Randall said. “… Loudoun’s museum has been very whitewashed, to a point of being very disturbing.”

With money in hand, the museum board is now working to hire a new museum director and get the museum open again. They are now seeking volunteers for “Psychic Night at Loudoun Museum,” scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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