Whether you’re steeped in history or have little interest in it, organizers for the Jamestown 2019 commemoration want to reel you in.
Organizers hope to create a lasting legacy and conversation around the commemoration by increasing the use of digital media and using current events as an entry point into the larger conversation.
“We want to show why history matters in today’s context,” said Kathy Spangler, executive director of American Evolution, a sub-agency of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation that is organizing commemoration events. “We think (using the arts) is a core approach to engage the community in a contemporary way.”
Spangler said the 2019 commemoration will promote the entrepreneurial spirit of Virginia and mark the 400th anniversary of a number of other significant firsts, including:
- The first representative legislative assembly in English North America.
- The arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America.
- The recruitment of English women in large numbers to Virginia.
- The first official English Thanksgiving in North America.
Spangler said the heavy emphasis on digital promotion — which will include a smartphone app to debut in May — will attract audiences who might not otherwise engage with Jamestown’s history.
“We’re really going toward a contemporary point of entry,” Spangler said. “We want to be, we have to be a digital commemoration, because we want to leverage social media. We want to attract people who may not come to history as readily. We’re going to meet them on their terms. So you’ll see us positioning the commemoration in a contemporary way, taking people back to understand why history matters in the context of why history matters today.”
The digital emphasis is deliberate and designed to allow people to engage with Jamestown’s story well beyond the events of the 2019 commemoration, and it helps market the event outside Virginia.
“We don’t’ want to be a one-and-done,” Spangler said. “We want to have a lasting impact.”
American Evolution will hold nine signature events for the commemoration and two dozen events overall across Virginia.
“We want to amplify that Virginia has been visible in telling the full story of its history,” said Yuri Milligan, American Evolution associate director of marketing and communications.
Three years of events
The 2019 commemoration won’t just last a single year. It spans 39 months and kicked off in August 2016 with African Arrival Day at Fort Monroe in Hampton, which marked the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to English North America in 1619. The commemoration will culminate in November 2019 with the multi-day Customs, Cultures and Cuisine Festival in Jamestown.
“We want to have programming that lives on,” Milligan said.
Spangler said the commemoration aims to tell the full story of the history of Virginia and Jamestown while leading a conversation on diversity, democracy and opportunity through a contemporary lens on events from 400 years ago.
In early 2018, American Evolution will team with Johnson Marketing and the PBS station WHRO in Norfolk to produce five forums on relevant current events linked to the commemoration’s themes and events from 1619. Spangler said the topics, and locations for the events will be unveiled by Thanksgiving.
“This is really our effort to lift up and reinforce Virginia’s intentional leadership around telling the full history of the places our history represents and making sure that America recognizes that Virginia is a place to come and that the American Evolution is for history lovers,” Spangler said.
American Evolution will also debut a series of five videos at the VA-1 Tourism Summit in Norfolk Nov. 12-14, depicting Virginia’s history from the past 400 years.
“It’ll start to show that we want to tell the history in its fullest,” Spangler said.
An economic impact
Jamestown last celebrated a large commemoration in 2007 — the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The 2007 commemoration, in which Queen Elizabeth II visited for two days, lasted 18 months and consisted of events and activities throughout Virginia, the East Coast and England.
A Chmura Economics and Analytics economic impact study from 2008 cited $1.2 billion in sales in Virginia associated with the 2007 commemoration, along with $22 million in tax revenue for the state and $6.4 million in tax revenue for local governments. More than 3.3 million visitors attended programming for the 2007 commemoration throughout Virginia.
Organizers of the 2019 commemoration hope to see a similar economic impact.
Spangler said American Evolution has received about $10.5 million in public funds and $1.8 million from private sponsorships since 2015 through its fiscal year 2018 budget.
American Evolution’s 2017 budget was $3.5 million; it spent 35 percent on programs and events, 34 percent on marketing and communications and 29 percent on personnel. In 2018, the organization will have a $6.5 million budget; It has earmarked 43 percent of that money on marketing, 32 percent on programs and events and 22 percent on personnel.
Spangler said she won’t know how much money she’ll have to carry out fiscal year 2019 programming until the General Assembly passes a budget.
“We’ve designed the commemoration to scale, appropriately, based upon the resources we have,” Spangler said. “But we also have designed a plan that really is about all of Virginia participating and being engaged in the importance of this commemoration and what it means to our future.”
She said excitement is building for the multitude of events for the commemoration.
“This was clearly a scale-up year,” Spangler said. “We are scaling up. We are getting more complex, and what’s exciting is that we are building energy and interest.”
Jamestown 2019 events scheduled for the Williamsburg region
Virginia Thanksgiving Festival: noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 5, Berkeley Plantation, Charles City
Berkeley Plantation will host the reenactment of the first English Thanksgiving in North America on Dec. 4, 1619, with Thanksgiving at Berkeley Hundred. The festival will feature crafts and games for children, re-enactors and entertainers, along with a food and vendor area with additional education tables.
The Women of Jamestown special exhibition: November, Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown
The Women of Jamestown is a year-long special exhibition featuring little known personal stories to illustrate roles women played in founding years of U.S. and are stories that will be shared from each of Virginia’s three founding cultures — Virginia Indian, African and English. It will use objects, images and primary sources in a story-driven exhibition.
Historic Jamestowne: Democracy and Diversity special exhibition and archaeological projects: Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown
This exhibit will focus on the establishment of representative government and rule of law, protections for private property and sustained encounters among Native Americans, Europeans, Africans who first came together at Jamestown. In 2017-18, archaeologists will lead excavations on important Jamestown sites, including the location for the 1617 church, which hosted first Virginia General Assembly meeting, and investigate the home site of Captain William Pierce, where one of first Africans to arrive in English North America, “Angela,” lived. The excavations will be open and visible to the public, and related educational and exhibition materials will be in Historic Jamestowne’s Memorial Church, which will chronicle archaeologists work and findings.
Global Emerging Leaders Summit: March 6-13, Charlottesville, Richmond and Williamsburg
This weeklong event for Virginia’s emerging leaders from more than 50 countries and college students from around the state will reflect on challenges of leadership, governance and civic engagement in both 21st-century democracies and states aspiring for democracy. The event will be held in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia, as well as other organizations, such as the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.
International Forum on Representative Democracy: July 31-Aug. 1, Richmond and Jamestown
The International Forum will commemorate the first General Assembly, which was made up of men from each of Virginia’s 11 major settlements, who met for the first time at Jamestown from July 30-Aug. 4, 1619. American Evolution plans to bring together heads of state and representatives from democracies around the world, including the British Parliament, members of U.S. Congress and state legislators. The event will highlight the historic impact of democracy on the United States and its impact on the world. Watch parties will be launched through social media, with a special ceremonial session of the first General Assembly to be held in Jamestown.
Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center dedication: Aug. 24, Hampton
The Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center will tell the history of Freedom’s Fortress and the African-American experience in colonial Virginia, two blocks from where the first Africans arrived in English North America in 1619. It will also feature exhibits/interpretation of enslaved people who escaped to Fort Monroe during Civil War.
Virginia Thanksgiving Festival: Nov. 3, Berkeley Plantation, Charles City
Berkeley Plantation will host the reenactment of the first English Thanksgiving in North America on Dec. 4, 1619, Thanksgiving at Berkeley Hundred. The festival will feature crafts and games for children, re-enactors and entertainers, along with a food and vendor area with additional education tables.
Customs, Cultures and Cuisine Festival: Nov. 8-10, Jamestown
Multi-day signature events will be held on grounds of Jamestown Settlement, to honor the early beginnings of America and three cultures present in Virginia in 1619, celebrate their contributions as well as the contributions of immigrants from other cultures that have helped shaped the nation for 400 years. It will be a fully interactive, immersive living-history and entertainment program.