For the first time in 186 years, the Virginia Historical Society is changing its name.
To the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
“This new name better articulates the building on the Boulevard, that we are an attraction that tells the story of the commonwealth,” said Jamie Bosket, president and CEO of the newly named museum. “We’re not just putting a new sticker out front. This name is going to mean a new lifestyle for us. Our vision going forward is to engage and welcome all Virginians.”
The newly named museum has been collecting Virginia’s history since 1831. But unlike many museums in the area, it is a private organization that gets almost all its support from membership and private contributions.
The museum now has a massive collection of 9 million items, making it one of the largest history collections in the Mid-Atlantic, according to Bosket.
Bosket, 34, joined the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in 2017, after spending 10 years at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
He has ambitious plans for the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, and aims for it to be considered side by side with institutions such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Science Museum of Virginia.
In 2015, a $30 million-plus renovation was completed on the building to offer a more welcoming entrance from the back parking area, to present a friendlier face on the Boulevard and to provide better use of interior space for exhibitions.
Bosket said the new name is a continuation of efforts to make the museum more open and accessible to the public.
“Our story is Virginia. It should lead the name,” he explained. “‘History’ is what we are and ‘Culture’ casts a broad umbrella of what history means to us. We are the keepers of the Virginia story.”
The organization will keep the name Virginia Historical Society as its official parent organization with the museum and the library facing the public.
Pam Royall, chairwoman of the marketing committee, said, “The biggest obstacle in our analysis of being more accessible to the general public was our name. It doesn’t say what we do.”
She is the head of research at Royall & Company, now called EAB Enrollment Marketing Services.
“We recognized that we wanted to be more audience-centered. We wanted our programs to be more market-centered, more focused on the public,” she added.
Royall said that the stature of the building itself could be imposing to the general visitor or tourist.
Known as “Battle Abbey,” the building is neoclassical in style and parts of it were first built as a shrine to the Confederate dead in 1913.
“From the Boulevard, the building can look rather intimidating. And the name — Virginia Historical Society — suggests membership. We didn’t want people to think of us that way. We have evolved from a heritage where we were largely limited to academic institutions to becoming a museum open to a wide and diverse audience.”
She said the public should look for future programming that is meant to draw people in with signature events such as the annual craft beer festival, the new Naturalization Ceremony on Independence Day, as well as exhibits that will attract a larger audience.
Opening this weekend at the museum is “WW1 America,” a traveling exhibition that tells personal stories of people affected by the Great War, as well as hundreds of artifacts from the time period.
“Over 100,000 Virginians served in World War I and 3,700 lost their lives. This exhibit is a deep dive into the Virginia story and the people who contributed,” Bosket said. “It’s one of the best exhibits we’ve mounted in our building in years. I can’t wait for people to see it.”
Tickets to the exhibit run $5-$10 from children to adults, with free admission to members.
A sign with the new name — the Virginia Museum of History & Culture — will be at the corner of Kensington Avenue and the Boulevard in the near future. In the meantime, banners with the new name will go up inside the museum.
“This name is a starting point for a very different institution,” Bosket said. “When we look back, we’ll see this as a moment of great transformation.”