Art Museums break ground on $40 million expansion

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg broke ground Thursday on its first large-scale expansion and upgrade, a $40 million project which is expected to take two years to complete. 

The expansion is the primary capital priority of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's $600 million Campaign for History and Citizenship. It will add 61,000 square feet to the Art Museums - which house the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum - and increase gallery space by 22 percent. 

New York City-based Samuel Anderson Architects, which in 2006 designed the space that currently houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, designed the expansion. 

"The Art Museums' expansion is a fundamental component of our core mission," said Colonial Williamsburg Foundation board of trustees chairman Henry Wolf in a news release. "It is being completely funded with dedicated donor funds and not with the Foundation's general endowment."

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation president Mitchell Reiss said the work is critical and will allow it to "improve the visitor experience, draw more visitors and more appropriately display our world-class collection."

During the groundbreaking, he called it a momentous occasion, with the vision for an expanded facility emerging several years ago. 

"You, and all of our remarkable friends and supporters, moved this vision forward and turned what was once a dream into a living reality," Reiss said.

"As we break ground on an exciting new chapter for the Museums, we thank you, and honor you, and trust that you will remain close to us into this project through to its completion when we can all more fully enjoy our world-class museums and more of our extraordinary collections in larger and more inviting and enhanced space."

Following brief remarks, members of the Art Museum board and million dollar expansion campaign donors, dug into the ground with replica 18th century shovels and hoes. Foundation and Art Museums staff, along with the general public, also participated in the groundbreaking. 

The expansion will add more gallery space to allow for more of the museum's collections to be displayed, and will shift the building's entrance to South Nassau Street from the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773. 

Additional changes to the Art Museums include: 

  • A new lobby and orientation space overlooking the pastoral site of the John Custis House and Garden, and a grand concourse that will provide access to both museums, which is expected to improve visibility of the complex to guests approaching on foot from the Historic Area.
  • Guest services, such as an expanded museum café and store, will move to lobby level where they may be accessed without a ticket and will be bathed in natural light through new, expansive windows overlooking Bicentennial Park.
  • Car parking, including that for the mobility challenged, is also expected to be considerably improved. In addition, the Colonial Williamsburg bus stop will move to the museum entry area from its current location near the intersection of South Henry and Francis streets.
  • Enhanced programming and activities to engage visitors.
  • Space and equipment for efficient operations and exhibition presentations.
  • New and upgraded mechanical and climate-control systems.
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