Orange, VA -- Nine months since the breakthrough election in May of the first descendant-led board at a major museum in the U.S., The Montpelier Foundation today provided evidence for why the national historic site and Constitution education center has entered 2023 stronger than ever. James French, descendant and now board chair of the Foundation, stated, “The dream of shared governance is now Montpelier’s reality, and the emerging results are truly inspiring.” French shared that:
● Montpelier surpassed its year-end fundraising goals. Reengaged and first-time donors cited as motivation for their generosity being inspired by Montpelier’s new nationally prominent board and its groundbreaking model of governance.
● Reenergized staff are launching a slate of new programs with headlining speakers through which the public will explore the Constitution and American history “with unprecedented rigor and honesty,” aided by receipt of a major grant to explore the First Amendment.
● The Foundation has launched a robust global search for a permanent President and CEO, expected to conclude this spring.
● The board and staff have implemented new policies and practices that are already substantially improving the quality of internal management and public engagement at the historic site.
● And perhaps most notably, the Foundation has formulated a bold new organizing vision for Montpelier aimed at securing and expanding the institution’s relevance for decades to come.
The “Four Pillars,” representing Montpelier’s core values and commitments and distinguishing the site from other cultural institutions, include:
I.Civic Engagement: The Foundation’s Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution is spearheading Montpelier’s effort to fulfill its potential as a global center of excellence for teaching and promoting democracy and reconciliation through exploration of the full history of the place where James Madison conceived the Constitution. The Center is expanding programs which explore a fuller American story, rooted in the history and legacy of the founding principles
of the U.S. Constitution.
II. Re-imagining the Visitor Experience: Montpelier is laying the groundwork for a more meaningful visitor experience by opening up more of the rarely explored 2,650 acres landscape and introducing state-of-the art interpretive techniques to create new opportunities for digital story-telling.
III. Memorialization: Montpelier is the final resting place for over 300 American men, women and children held in bondage by the Madisons for over 140 years. This pillar will lead to a memorial to honor and bring visibility to the “Invisible Founders” – people enslaved at Montpelier and across our nation – whose stories and vital contributions to building America have yet to be told.
IV. Building the Arc National Trail: The Arc will combine outdoor recreation with public history and citizen science, allowing the public to hike, bike, and camp while learning about the past and planning for the future.
The Four Pillars are described in more detail on Montpelier’s website.
After successfully completing a six-month assignment as Interim President and CEO, Elizabeth Chew, a veteran art historian in the museum field, is transitioning to leading the Reimagining the Visitor Experience pillar. “We anticipate investing in new interpretive techniques and using technology and digital storytelling to open up unexplored parts of the Montpelier landscape and reveal the multitude of untold stories of the Madisons and all who lived here, white and black, enslaved and free. We will thrill new and returning visitors alike.”
Once home to the Madison family, James and Dolley Madison, and over 300 enslaved people, Montpelier aims to nurture a sense of citizenship and broader inclusion in the ever-evolving story of America. “Our vision is to become the most exciting, historically compelling, and relevant historic site in the US,” said Krista Costello, Montpelier’s Chief Operating Officer.
Katie Crawford-Lackey, Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, stated that Montpelier “looks to advance the national conversation about the Constitution’s role in American life today.”
French observed, “Shared governance is an ambitious goal and not everyone wants to advance from the status quo. Those who resent this change have attacked our credibility and our patriotism. Our faith remains steadfast that the most representative, inclusive, and proficient leadership ever at the helm of Montpelier will lead to this institution being a source of inspiration for the conversations our country needs to have to remain a rich and vibrant democracy.”