Construction that Instructs: Renovations at Moton have proved educational

USDA Loan Signing - From right to left: Terry Ammons (StudioAmmons), Shaun Rai (Virginia Community Capital), Lacy Ward (Robert Russa Moton Museum), Cindy Bomar (USDA-Rural Development), Kenneth Jones (Prestige Construction).

Excitement and anticipation are in the air at Moton Museum these days – along with a lot of dust. Hard hatted experts from Prestige Construction are at work, revealing the past and renovating for the future. Moton Museum Director Lacy Ward, Jr. is eager to share what to see and do there starting in April. “There’s been a lot of activity, and I want [visitors] to get an understanding of what we have done, and what we have yet to do, and what the ongoing challenges to reach completion are,” he said recently when we met him in his office. Amid the clanging and clamor of construction, he outlined what to expect when the dust clears and we can all tour the newly installed interpretive galleries. StudioAmmons, Inc created the innovative educational and interactive design for these galleries.

If you are familiar with the layout of the museum, as you walk into the entrance from the parking lot, the former library is on the right. It is being converted into the educational gift shop and resource center. “Everything on this side of the museum will be completed by July,” Lacy Ward, Jr. explained as we toured. The hallway leads to the auditorium; some might say the heart of the building. That is where in 1951, 16 year old Barbara Rose Johns led her fellow students in the dramatic walk-out that was pivotal to civil rights history. The auditorium will be the main focus for the “big reveal” in April, and is called Gallery One. “The auditorium will be completed by April 20th,” he said. “We are going to have a gala opening on April 22nd and sneak peeks throughout the period up to April 30.” These sneak peek tours will include daily screenings of the film “Strike!: April 23, 1951” by filmmaker Tim Reid, along with other activities.

In all, Lacy Ward, Jr. explained, Moton 2011 will feature six galleries. These will be installed through funding that is being raised from public and private donors. He said a major challenge “is to find an additional $1.5 million to complete galleries two through six. When we have secured these funds, then we will close those galleries for a four-month period of time, and then we open with a completed museum. It’s all lined up; it’s ready to go.” The work so far has cost about $4 million. Those who have generously donated toward these goals includes Dominion, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission, the National Education Association, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Altria Group, the Institute of Museum & Library Services, the National Park Services “Save Our Treasures” program, the Cabell Foundation, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, the Virginia Department of Transportation “Enhancement Program,” Prince Edward County, and Wallace and Mary Gray Stettinius.

The original 1930s structure is being brought up to 21st century infrastructure standards for modern visitors. Things like central air conditioning and heat are new. Moton students never benefited from these systems. “It was only because it was designated an Historic National Landmark and because Save America’s Treasures said it should have a proper environmental system [that they got these improvements].” For the first time ever a full size water line is being installed. He explained that even when improvements to the Farmville water system were installed and delivered to surrounding businesses and structures, Moton School never got those upgrades. “Right now, because we started fundraising to improve this facility, for the first time we are going to have access to the full water line that runs down Highway 15 that’s been there for many years.

“In many ways, not only are we building a museum and taking it forward, but we are actually going back and correcting for ‘separate but equal’ and bringing it up to the standard it should have been brought up to when it housed students.”

Construction Discovery - From right to left: Ken Boulware (Prestige Construction), Sean Jefferson (Prestige Construction), Lori Blackwood (Robert Russa Moton Museum), Patrice Carter (Robert Russa Moton Museum), Gibson Worsham (StudioAmmons), Andrew Marshall (StudioAmmons), Lacy Ward (Robert Russa Moton Museum).

As the construction crews work, they are peeling back the past and revealing evidence of student life. Moton Museum Program Coordinator Patrice Carter described one exciting discovery. “The construction workers found the sign behind the bookshelf in the room that used to be the library.” As if hidden in a time capsule, the small cardboard poster advertised “Movie ‘Stagedoor Canteen’ Mon. March 27, 1950” in hand stenciled lettering.

Keep posted on the latest developments as Moton Museum continues to transform the way we look at the past. You can be part of the Moton Story – Sign up for our newsletter to get updates sent to your inbox, find us on FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, and share this story with your friends and colleagues.

Close-up of poster - click for larger image

The Robert Russa Moton Museum is committed to the preservation and positive interpretation of the history of civil rights in education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County, Virginia and the role its citizens played in America’s struggle to move from a segregated to an integrated society.

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