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Experts question museum's timeline page 2
Professionals doubt whether 2007 is a realistic opening date for Fredericksburg's U.S. National Slavery Museum.


Date published: 8/30/2004

By PAMELA GOULD

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Wilder held a ceremonial groundbreaking in December. Actual construction is slated to start before year's end, according to Foster's assistant, James Damron.

Newsome isn't the only museum professional wondering if 2007 is too ambitious. That was the consensus among people interviewed at the Association of African American Museums annual conference held this month in Raleigh, N.C.

Nikki DeJesus, who spent 31/2 years helping develop the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture that opens in Baltimore next spring, also has some concerns.

She said the average museum takes eight to 15 years for development--with the eight-year mark for those not needing to jump through the hoops associated with a government-initiated project.

"It's doable," DeJesus said of the 2007 date. "It depends on where they are in their process."

Developing a museum is a long and involved effort that begins with fund raising and developing public awareness and support, DeJesus said. It also entails design, construction, staffing and development of exhibits and programs.

"It's not an easy undertaking," she said.

Another timing issue on the minds of people in the museum community is the U.S. National Slavery Museum's effort to get started as three other major museums addressing African-American history also are getting their footing.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center held its grand opening in Cincinnati, Ohio, last week. Officials in Charleston, S.C., are working on a $50 million facility now known as the International African American Museum that also is projected to open in 2007. And then there's the Washington project that carries the well-respected Smithsonian name.

Officials at the national conference said the simultaneous projects could present challenges both in gathering items for museum exhibits and in fund raising--both of which can cause delays.

Newsome, who attended the initial planning symposium for the slavery museum in March 2002, declined to give an estimate on a realistic opening date, but he did offer a broad parameter.

"It's still going to take a minimum of 10 years before we see a building," he said. "I don't think anybody should be looking for an instant museum, because it's not going to happen that way."

To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/657-9101 pgould@freelancestar.com


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