By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007
The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond is seeking public support for a $15 million plan that would divide its collection of Civil War-era artifacts among three battlefield sites in other parts of Virginia.
Museum officials say the plan would create displays at battlefield locations at Chancellorsville, Appomattox and a third site, still to be determined, by 2011. The "White House of the Confederacy," Confederate President Jefferson Davis's wartime home and headquarters, would remain open, officials say, and the current museum next door would likely close.
The latest bid to preserve the 117-year-old institution comes on the heels of failed efforts to relocate the museum, once considered the "Shrine of the South."
"We're somewhere between just starting and halfway through" executing the plan, S. Waite Rawls III, the museum's executive director, said yesterday. "Our mission is to use our artifact collection to educate the public, and you have to get people to see the stuff in order to do that."
The current museum suffers from financial and image problems. A medical complex has been built around it in recent years, annual attendance has dropped to half its peak of 91,000, and an internal review last year found that the museum's endowment has been used to pay basic operating expenses for years. The museum needed a cash infusion from the state legislature earlier this year to stay afloat.
Rawls said yesterday that the current plan would keep the museum's headquarters in Richmond while managing exhibitions from its collections at the three different sites. The plan, however, would require sizable donations from both public and private agencies, and Rawls said funding has not yet been secured.