The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has embarked on a $600 million campaign to both reinforce and reimagine its role in the 21st century as a leader in history education and historical preservation.
Since its restoration began in 1926, Colonial Williamsburg has evolved as a source of learning and inspiration about America’s founding. To this day, visitors to the colonial capital city encounter the very halls, homes and taverns where visionaries like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry debated the promise—and perils—of a revolution that would change the course of human history.
Preserving this essential part of America’s heritage—and finding new ways to deepen the public’s appreciation of its relevance today—is the focus of the Campaign for History and Citizenship that Colonial Williamsburg will announce on Saturday, Nov. 22. Investments in the campaign will strengthen and expand the programs, staff, facilities and technological innovation necessary to advance Americans’ understanding of their nation’s history and the very principles on which their own citizenship is based.
“The American Revolution set in motion the world’s greatest experiment in representative government; it remains a touchstone that helps Americans understand who we are and how we have evolved as such a diverse and enterprising society,” said Foundation President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss, who will formally launch the campaign’s public phase with other Foundation leaders in a ceremony Saturday at the Capitol. “By preserving the artifacts, stories and very setting of the Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg offers modern Americans a direct link to the founding generation—whose extraordinary words and deeds challenge us to embrace our own roles in shaping our country’s future.”
The Campaign for History and Citizenship has already raised more than $300 million in a quiet phase that began in 2009 under the leadership of Colin G. Campbell, chairman emeritus of the Foundation, who retired as president on Oct. 5.
Boosting the campaign is a new, $13 million commitment from senior trustees Abby M. and George D. O’Neill of Oyster Bay, N.Y. The gift, which their son Peter M. O’Neill will announce at Saturday’s campaign launch, will provide unrestricted funds to address both immediate and emerging needs throughout Colonial Williamsburg. Their previous campaign gifts total $1.1 million and include support for teacher development in New York State. Mrs. O’Neill is the eldest grandchild of John D. Rockefeller Jr., whose vision and philanthropy drove Colonial Williamsburg’s founding nearly 90 years ago. Mr. George O’Neill is founder and chairman emeritus of Meriwether Capital Corp.; their son Peter is chairman of the Rockefeller Family Office in New York.
The Campaign for History and Citizenship: Major Areas of Investment
Reimagining Historic Area Programming
A proposed $163.5 million investment will introduce new voices and interpretive methods to Historic Area programming, from presentations of the lives of African-Americans and American Indians to the struggle for religious freedom and the critical role of the military. Colonial Williamsburg will immerse new, ever-more diverse audiences in the aspirations, struggles and everyday lives of 18th-century Americans as their nation took shape in the face of overwhelming odds.
Expanding and Upgrading Colonial Williamsburg’s Award-winning Museums
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum are a major campaign focus. Housed under the same roof, the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg—as they are known collectively—boast renowned collections of American folk art through the present day, and of British and American fine and decorative arts from 1670-1830. These collections both preserve and convey powerful information and unique insights into America’s origins and its evolution through the centuries.
The $40 million project, which will greatly improve public access to the building and add 8,000 square feet of new gallery space, represents the first major expansion of the facility since it opened in 1985. The new gallery space—an increase of 22 percent—will enable the Art Museums to showcase much more of their renowned collections of furniture, paintings, silver, numismatics, ceramics, tools, textiles, maps, weapons and a variety of other media.
Investment in Historical Construction and Preservation
The Museums expansion is a key component of a proposed $185 million investment that will include a new, state-of-the-art archeology lab. A third major capital project is the reconstructed Market House, a vital part of 18th-century Williamsburg’s commercial and community center. Trustee and major benefactor Forrest Mars Jr. of Wyoming has committed to funding the Market House’s reconstruction in its entirety.
Preserving Colonial Williamsburg’s restored and rebuilt structures is an equally vital part of the “buildings” portion of the campaign. These existing structures—nearly 600 across 301 acres, including 88 original buildings—recreate Virginia’s colonial capital at the time of the Revolution, making Colonial Williamsburg the world’s largest open-air, living-history museum.
The Foundation is seeking to raise $100 million to support an array of critical preservation efforts, from historically accurate painting and landscaping to repairing the very stones, bricks and mortar of irreplaceable 18th-century buildings.
Enhanced Educational Outreach
Educational outreach goes to the heart of Colonial Williamsburg’s mission—in its founder’s words, “That the Future May Learn from the Past”—and represents the fourth major focus of the campaign. With budget cuts and competing classroom priorities compromising history and civics instruction in schools across the nation, Colonial Williamsburg will renew and deepen its commitment to improving students’ understanding of American history and its lessons about civic responsibility.
A proposed $64.5 million investment will enable the Foundation to continue developing compelling outreach programs that reach national and even global audiences. Through digital technology initiatives, teacher-training programs and the creation of new classroom materials, Colonial Williamsburg will continue to support and supplement the teaching of American history and civics in home and school settings.
Additional Campaign Goals
“At a time of such political, economic and cultural challenges—in the United States, and throughout the world—Colonial Williamsburg grounds us in the principles that have sustained us as a nation for more than 230 years,” said Steven L. Miller, Colonial Williamsburg trustee and chairman of the Campaign for History and Citizenship. “These investments by our supporters will ensure that this Revolutionary City will continue to inform and inspire many generations of Americans to come.”
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