City Council Sees Lynchburg Museum System’s Success Up Close

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Make Your Case, Serve Local Community

Type of attraction: Museum/Historic Site

Summary: Seeing is believing, and a tour of the Lynchburg Museum and historic home Point of Honor gave members of Lynchburg, Virginia’s City Council a chance to experience the museum as a community treasure.

Seeing is believing, and a tour of the Lynchburg Museum and historic home Point of Honor gave members of Lynchburg, Virginia’s City Council a chance to experience the museum as a community treasure and an economic impact generator – just in time to consider the museum’s allotment in the city’s budget.

Faced with budget cuts that could result in reduced operating hours and programming, the museum’s City Council-appointed board hosted a tour for Lynchburg’s Mayor and Council members.  They also shared a fact sheet detailing the museum’s contribution to the city’s tourism economy, with attendance that doubled between 2005 and 2010, as well as educational programs for local schools.

“I’ve been a stickler about collecting data,” says Douglas Harvey, museum director. “We have been doing visitor surveys and found that over half of our visitors are from out of state including a good number from foreign countries. We went back to what is relative – our expenditures, school programs, special events and how we help generate economic impact for Lynchburg. In planning the budget, the Council has to turn from thinking about the water supply to the school system to state funding, and they can’t focus on every little aspect. We saw the tour as a way to meet and educate newer members on the Council, and they seemed to be impressed with what they saw.”

As with many community museums across the country, the Lynchburg Museum emerged from celebrating the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. “We always had history-minded folks living here,” says Harvey. “Lynchburg was settled in 1754, and a lot of older families are still here, so there was an impetus to create a museum.”

At the same time, another group was interested in restoring Point of Honor, an early 19th century historic home that had served as a recreation center for 40 years. Joining forces, the two groups created the Lynchburg Museum System and a foundation which supports operations and special projects for both sites. 

Both sites became important community resources with the museum building a collection of 20,000 artifacts and 8,000 photographs, along with reference books, maps and other resources that document the history of Lynchburg.

The Lynchburg Museum’s importance to the community was especially evident in 2000 when the ceiling collapsed in the 19th century style Old City Court House which houses the museum. Not only did the city contribute $2 million to restore the three-story building, but a new master plan led to new exhibits detailing the history of Lynchburg, life in the Central Virginia Piedmont region, art and artisans and many other topics.

As if a collapsed ceiling weren’t enough, just as the museum reopened in 2008, the next challenge was dealing with a collapsed economy.

“When I came to the museum in 2005, the city and the economy were in good shape,” Harvey says. “By 2008, the pressures were coming to bear. Last year, the city asked us to cut the budget by 10 percent. The way we solved that was our foundation raised money and gave the city half of the budget difference so City Council agreed to give the other 5 percent.”

In planning for FY 2012, Lynchburg’s budget faces even harder choices requiring a direct plan of action from the museum. “We know police, fire departments, water systems and high schools are important, but we think we are also important in driving heritage tourism and creating a sense of place,” Harvey says.  “Our board wanted to make sure City Council knows about all we are involved in so they hosted the tour in early February before the FY 2012 budget deliberations began.

For more information visit www.lynchburgmuseum.org; contact Douglas Harvey at museum@lynchburgva.gov.  

To view the tour, visit http://lynchburg.granicus.com/ASX.php?publish_id=336&sn=lynchburg.granicus.com.