Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg expansion progresses

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's $40 million expansion of its art museums, begun in September, are “pretty much on schedule” despite minor weather-related delays, said Ronald Hurst, the foundation’s vice president for collections, conservation and museums. He is also its Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator.

The scaffolding surrounding the structure heralds a new roof on the Public Hospital of 1773, which serves as the entryway into the museums. Hurst said this falls under normal maintenance and should be completed within 45 days, when the scaffolding will be removed.

The other major undertaking involves relocation of the museums’ underground utilities, such as water and gas, alongside the removal of some trees and street lights. That’s expected to be finished in early February.

“Once that happens, the serious business of excavation will begin,” Hurst said. “The exciting stuff is coming up here shortly.”

The museums still plan to remain open throughout the two-year expansion process.

“I think guests won’t really begin to notice anything inside the museum until July, and that will be in very select areas,” Hurst said.

The 65,000-square-foot expansion intends to increase exhibition space and implement new technologies, such as screens showcasing information about objects on display. Hurst was in Ohio Thursday looking at sister institutions for further ways to incorporate technology. The endeavor also means new restrooms, luggage storage, a retail store and restaurant for visitors.

It will also provide a new, more direct entrance on South Nassau Street. Currently, visitors venture through the Public Hospital entrance, up and down multiple staircases and through a tunnel before entering the main facilities; a wheelchair-accessible entrance is also available within a fenced area on the building’s western side.

Erik Goldstein, senior curator of mechanical arts and numismatics, recalled his first visit to the art museums as a college student; he initially mistook its current entryway to mean he was in the wrong place.

“I’m an avid museum-goer. That’s an experience that always stuck with me,” he said.

Goldstein said he’s excited about the new entrance alongside the opportunity to bolster the museum’s offerings.

“It’s going to allow us to get a much bigger diversity of exhibits out there,” he said.

The expansion is being funded as a part of Colonial Williamsburg’s $600 million Campaign for History and Citizenship, an overarching effort to preserve the area’s history and expand the foundation’s educational programs and reach in the 21st century.

“In this area, we can use the grand setting of historical places and historical personalities to tell grand stories,” Hurst said. The museums’ expansion is a major pillar of the foundation’s campaign. “It’s going to transform the experience.”

See the progress

A live webcam showcasing the expansion process can be seen at history.org/webcams/museum.cfm.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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