Colonial Williamsburg Foundation seeks City approval for $40 mil museum expansion

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An artist's rendering of the planned entrance to the combined Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum to be built on South Nassau Street. (Photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
An artist’s rendering of the planned entrance to the combined Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum to be built on South Nassau Street. (Photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has submitted a proposal to Williamsburg’s Planning Commission for the rezoning and subsequent $40 million expansion of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, located at 301 Nassau Street.

The agenda for the Planning Commission’s Jan. 18 meeting appeared on the City’s website late Friday afternoon and two public hearings regarding the Foundation are scheduled for the meeting. 

The first hearing will consider the Foundation’s request to rezone approximately 20,300 square feet, which would allow the Foundation to expand the Art Museums, according to meeting documents. The second hearing will consider the Foundation’s request for a Special Use Permit to extend the parking area to allow for 34 new parking spaces.

“The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will soon take their rightfully prominent place in the Williamsburg landscape, and we are thrilled,” Steve Miller, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation trustee and chairman of the fundraising campaign, said in a press release.

Meeting documents indicate that the requests were submitted to the city on Dec. 21, 2016, and a press release from the Foundation’s website dated Nov. 21 announced the $40 million expansion project. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gave the final approval for the expansion plans when the Foundation held a meeting on Nov. 19, according to the release.

The appearance of the Foundation’s request on the Planning Commission’s agenda comes on the heels of the layoff of roughly 40 employees Wednesday.

The November press release states that the proposed expansion would be the first large-scale upgrade to the building that holds the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum since the building’s construction in 1985. 

The capital campaign was announced two years prior to the press release, and the expansion project has been the priority for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s $600 million Campaign for History and Citizenship, according to the release. 

All but $1.6 million of the project’s funds had been raised by November and gifts to the capital campaign for the expansion had been pledged from across the country.

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum exhibits and preserves American folk art, and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum displays furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, firearms, and textiles from colonial times.

“When complete, the new wing will add 65,000 square feet with a 22-percent increase in gallery space to the Art Museums, which will enable the Art Museums to show considerably more of their celebrated collections,” stated the Foundation through the release.

According to the release, the expansion will improve access through a new entrance, provide enhanced programming and activities to for visitor engagement, include new and enhanced climate control systems, and provide a new lobby, orientation space and concourse that overlooks the pastoral site of the John Custis House and Garden.

“Annual visitation to the Art Museums has been on the rise for several years, but that growth will accelerate with the creation of a more visible and guest-friendly entrance, expanded exhibition galleries and improved guest services,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums. “The expansion means the creation of dedicated gallery spaces for fine art, costumes, archaeological artifacts, weapons, numismatics and a host of other materials that are now too rarely seen.”