Attendance dips at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation museums

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

Paid admissions and revenues at both Jamestown Settlement and at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown took a dip in the first three months of 2018, but are still well above totals for both 2014 and 2015.

That, as well as discussions about a four-year action plan, updates on capital and marketing projects and the future of museums and digital advertising, were among the topics addressed by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s board of directors and trustees during their two-day joint meeting that wrapped up Thursday. They also heard from Colonial Williamsburg president and CEO Mitchell Reiss.

Paid admissions at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown are down 5.6 percent — from 25,814 people paying to come to the museum in the first three months of 2017 to 24,357 for the same period this year, with revenue so far at $215,729.

At Jamestown Settlement through March, paid attendance is down 2.4 percent from the same time last year — from 49,602 paid admissions in 2017 to 48,405 in 2018, with revenue at $495,072.

Through March, combined attendance was 72,762, down 3.5 percent from the 78,630 who visited the two Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation musuems in 2016 and the 75,416 who came in 2017, with combined revenues slightly lower for the first three months of 2018 than they were at the same time a year ago — $710,801 in 2018 versus $714,103 last year.

Peter Armstrong, senior director of museum operations and education for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, said the dip so far in 2018 was expected, given that the agency is between the renovation and rebranding of the Yorktown museum and in the middle of plans to renovate Jamestown Settlement ahead of the 2019 Commemoration.

The commemoration will mark the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly in North America, as well as the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America, the recruitment of English women in significant numbers, the first official English Thanksgiving in North America and the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of the Virginia Colony.

Armstrong said the key is to build off the momentum of new exhibits and museum offerings that people enjoyed.

“You can’t continue momentum by opening a new museum every year because you can’t afford it,” Armstrong said. “So you have to ensure that you have something that, maybe it’s not as expensive, but it’s going to be something that will drive visitors to come and see and be interested in.”

Still, board of trustees treasurer Frank Atkinson said continuing the high-quality programming at the two museums will be a team effort.

“We have an extremely high-quality product,” Atkinson said.

The foundation’s boards also heard about:

  • Plans to expand the Jamestown Pier and refresh the Jamestown Settlement galleries
  • Special exhibitions at the Revolution museum, including “Blast from the Past,” which begins June 10 and features heavy artillery used in the Revolution by the Americans, French and British; “Forgotten Soldier” (June 29, 2019 to March 28, 2020), will explore the roles African Americans played in the American Revolution. And, in the next six years, exhibitions on “Women of the Revolution,” “Spirits of the Revolution: Taverns in Early America” and “Secrets and Symbols.”
  • Special exhibitions at Jamestown Settlement, including “Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia” in 2019, and others to come over the next six years, including “Domestic Life in the 17th Century,” “The Royal Stuarts” and an exhibit on immigration and diverse cultures with the working title, “We are the World.”
  • Revenue projections for fiscal year 2018-2019 (July 2018 through June 2019) to total $19,562,469, including $6,426,291 from admission revenue. JYF’s total budget for 2017-2018 is $20,262,098. Revenues are up 5 percent through March of the 2017-2018 fiscal year versus the same period a year ago.

Armstrong said his takeaway from the board meeting, especially from what was discussed Thursday, is that museums are hip places to visit, but there’s still work to be done to convince the public of that. New technologies help and digital marketing expands, and can better target, a museum’s audience.

“They’re becoming cool places to go to, with the work that’s going on there; interesting and different,” Armstrong said. “What I got from today and what I got from what Mitchell Reiss and other presenters said is the need to make them an exciting place to go to.”

Note: The JYF boards approved slight increases to admission at Jamestown Settlement and for a combinaiton ticket in 2019, but maintained 2018 prices for admission at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Jamestown Settlement prices will increase 50 cents to $17.50 for adults, and from $8 to $8.25 for youths ages 6-12, and a combination ticket will rise 50 cents to $26 for adults, and from $12.25 to $12.50 for youths. Revolution museum tickets will remain at $15 for adults and $7.50 for youths in 2019. Children younger than 6 are free, as are residents of Williamsburg, James City County and York County.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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