Expand, enliven museums, study says
By Keith McMillan
Media General News Service
MANASSAS The Manassas Museum System could receive a facelift and significant expansion if city officials back the findings of a September development study.
The plan, prepared by the PRD Group of Fairfax, suggests the museums main building on Prince William Street expand to include changing exhibit galleries, a larger store and a hands-on discovery room. It also suggests Liberia, a historical home and plantation in northern Manassas, be open to the public.
The study also encourages the museum system to do one very important thing: increase the number of visitors.
It does no good to have preserved these sites, said system Director Scott Harris, without the public deriving some benefit from them.
The study reached two major conclusions: the number of visitors could rise dramatically with a healthy expansion, and more aggressive marketing is needed to attract regional and repeat visitors.
The museum averages about 35,000 guests per year, including 29,000 paying customers. According to a 1997-98 visitor survey, however, only one in four guests are from Northern Virginia and less than 10 percent were repeat visitors.
What we have determined, Harris said, is that we do want to change our local and repeat visits while not sacrificing the number of tourists (out-of-area visitors).
Attracting more visitors starts with the expansion of the Prince William Street building, highlighted by a 3,000-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery that could house up to three exhibits at once, according to the plan.
A new gallery, says Harris, would allow the museum to combat a problem growing since the museum moved to Prince William Street in 1991: a perception among locals that there is nothing new to see. Harris said people often visit once, and never come back.
It would be an opportunity for us to put more of our collection on exhibit and for us to take advantage of traveling exhibits, Harris said.
More than 60 percent of the collection is kept in storage, some of it off-site, Harris said.
The expansion proposed in the plan also includes 2,000 square feet of additional storage space, more offices, a library, rest rooms and expansions for the lobby and store.
The plan also says the museum would attract more guests by adding hands-on exhibits geared for children and families. It could also encourage more school-age and senior tours.
Harris says the museum wants to add variety and give people reasons to frequent the museum and its sites.
With work either complete or pending at the Manassas Train Depot, the Hopkins Candy Factory and two Civil War earthen forts, Mayfield and Cannon Branch, Harris said the system is growing steadily.
If we can fulfill whats in this plan, we will have a museum system in fact, not just in name, Harris said.
There are currently no plans to open Liberia, but Harris said it could be a site for indoor and outdoor programs covering, among other things, agricultural and African-American history.
Harris said the Jennie Dean memorial site is adequate, but could benefit from stronger marketing.
The plan calls for improved marketing of all sites within the museum system to help attract a larger local and regional audience. The plan also encourages the museum to cover more 20th-century history, so the museum is not perceived as simply Civil War-oriented.
The plan also details revenue sources and an increase in tourism spending that would help offset some of the costs of expansion.
Harris will present the plan to the city council at a 5:30 p.m. work session. He said he hopes the council endorses the plan and circulates it to county officials and local historical sources.
Harris plans to return to the council in March to discuss specifics.