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Viewpoint: Right Church, Wrong Pew!

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By Andrew Jackson

A great idea comes to Virginia Beach.  A Museum, combined with a Cultural Center to tell the story of a great people.

A great project in the wrong place is doomed to eventually die on the vine.  In this case a Museum/Cultural Center location is questioned.  Great idea and a long time coming but is the location one that will sustain its existence over the long haul of time?


The idea of an African-American History Museum combined with the functionality of a Culture Center has been around for some time.  Several groups have discussed and made some attempt to put something together.  This writer was involved with several of those groups and became disenchanted with the lack of progress, mostly due to side issues.

While I left the group, I didn’t abandon the idea.  I remembered my youth living in Cleveland and the enjoyment I had visiting any of several museums. Whether with my Mom and siblings, or with a school or church group, it was always something to behold.  I thought back of my visit to the African-American History Museum in Detroit with its tours,  presentations, discoveries and learning.  Also, in the course of my travels, I remember some of the great museums throughout the world in the many places I visited.

I’ve been in this area nearly 60 years and I know there is much rich history here. With those thoughts in mind, I set about putting together a couple of “rough” hand drawings of the main floor, some notes of what would be on the second floor, a concept to go with it and a PowerPoint presentation with pictures from different places and other museums.  I even came up with some descriptive names for several of the exhibition rooms.  Classroom style areas for school and student presentation, a little theater for the young ones and presentation spaces for those touring.  A theater style auditorium/presentation room that would also be utilized for recitals of various forms of cultural arts. Finally to make it useable, a banquet room that would accommodate, when fully open, 1,000 people and able to divide off for small groups of 100 or less.  And, of course, a couple of souvenir stores.

With a group of those actively pushing for the idea of a museum/cultural center we called in Councilwoman Ross-Hammond and presented a PowerPoint presentation. She gave her commitment to push the idea forward.  The presentation was also presented to a small community group earlier this year. Councilwoman Ross-Hammond has pushed forward. 

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The concept to date has a thumbs up from all that I have talked to.  The looming question is that of location.  Whether it’s thought of as such or not, a museum, beyond all the historical, social entertainment and educational benefits, is in fact a business with operating expenses and sustain ability issues.  In business, a location for a new business is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs, developers, and investors make during the planning phase of launching ventures. The location of a business can affect many aspects of how it operates, such as, in this case the flow of visitors, the effect on tourism and how costly it is to run.

Location is important because that factors greatly into how your initial target patrons can find you, how often your existing sounding community will visit.  And, importantly, is the area conducive to visitors both near and far.  In that regard, demographics become an important factor. Making these determinations can be as simple or as complex as you make it. There are, for instance, sophisticated location analysis tools available that include traffic pattern information, demographic and lifestyle data.

No doubt, if you have any understanding of business, you’ve heard the term “location, location, location” more than a few times. But if you’re in the throes of creating a spectacular venue, it might not be the first thing on your mind. However, it should be!

Check Your Demographics.  Remember, this is a city of tourism and in a sustain ability sense, this is where the revenue is.  If you choose a location that’s relatively remote from your customer base [tourism], will you be able to afford the higher advertising expenses? Is the trade area heavily dependent on seasonal business? Is the facility conveniently located for target patronage (tourism)? Is the facility location consistent with the image you’d like to maintain? Will parking space be available and adequate? Is the surrounding area ownership or rentership? Is the facility located in a safe neighborhood with a low crime rate?  If not, will crime insurance be prohibitively expensive?  Those are looming questions.

Museums are multipurpose venues.  Museums are purposeful cultural institutions. The U.S. Smithsonian Institution establishes that museums exist for the purpose of enriching the public’s knowledge and developing the society. The objectives of museums include promoting social development, research, education, and entertainment.  A museum should be aimed at carrying out social education, and preserving and promoting cultural assets. All of these prove that the purposes of museums include public welfare and social development, which surpass the times and are persistent ideals. 

Museums preserve and protect more than a billion objects and help communities better understand and appreciate cultural diversity.  Museums tell important stories by collecting, preserving, researching and interpreting objects, living specimens and historical records. Also, museums spend more than $2 billion a year on education activities; the typical museum devotes three-quarters of its education budget to K-12 students. And, they are community anchors in that in determining America’s Best Cities, placed the greatest weight on “leisure amenities [including density of museums], followed by educational metrics and economic metrics … then crime and air quality.

Museums are contemporary and social mechanisms. They inherit both time (history) and space (environment) and the different interpretations and applications of cultural characteristics from different races. Nonetheless, they share universal values in their purposes and carry material (collection and preservation of resources) and spiritual (philosophy, aesthetics, values) missions. Their priority is to increase knowledge for exploration of life’s wisdom.

The above said, for a city dependent to a great degree on tourism, there is another purpose.  Museums are popular! There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined (483 million in 2011). By 2006, museums already received an additional 524 million online visits a year just from adults, a number that continues to grow.  Americans from all ranges of income and education visit museums, and museum volunteers contribute a million hours of service every week.  Sounds like a great idea for increasing tourism.

Beyond all that, Museums Are Economic Engines.  They employ more than 400,000 persons and directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year and billions more through indirect spending by their visitors.  Seventy-eight percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums. These travelers spend 63 percent more on average than other leisure travelers.  

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Arts and cultural production constitute 4.32 percent of the entire U.S. economy, a $698 billion industry, more than construction ($586.7 billion) or transportation and warehousing ($464 billion). And 4.7 million workers are employed in the production of arts and cultural goods, receiving $334.9 billion in compensation.

Governments that support the arts find that for every $1 invested in museums and other cultural organization, $7 is returned in tax revenues.  The non-profit arts and culture industry annually generates over $135 billion in economic activity, supports more than 4.1 million full-time jobs and returns over $22 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.

Arts and cultural spending has a ripple effect on the overall economy, boosting both commodities and jobs.  For example, for every 100 jobs created from new demand for the arts, 62 additional jobs are also created.

All the above considered, the question of location comes fully into focus.  The present plan puts the location in an area just to the west end of Lake Edward.  The city is deciding to provide the land. The gesture is commendable but to this writer, it looks more in line with getting rid of something not considered much use.  

Last evening,  after a presentation by Councilwoman Ross-Hammond, I talked with one that I considered a friend and resource, even though we are usually on the opposite side of the political fence, and on this location issue, we agree.  This is not a good location for a grand idea.  Why take a jewel of an idea, an economic engine, and social relevance, then choose to place it in a back yard corner?  What happened to location, location, location?


Andrew Jackson

Community Advocate

V.B. African-American Leadership Forum

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