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Double play
Let's hear more about the slavery museum

Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 11/20/2005

Double play

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 50 miles makes. Consider:

In Richmond, about 50 miles to the south, a group planning to build a downtown performing-arts center has drawn sharp words from Mayor Douglas Wilder for procrastination and a lack of fiscal accountability. "Where's the work that's supposed to be taking place?" he recently demanded. As to the $67 million the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation reported having collected? A "shell game, a masquerade," His Honor charged.

Now zip back to Our Town, where a project initiated by the mayor could well be tagged with the same faults. The U.S. National Slavery Museum, which the city has both endorsed and aided, languishes in Celebrate Virginia South, little progress having been made on the physical structure. After finally releasing a financial statement Nov. 8, museum honchos are still playing the name-rank-and-serial-number game with Fredericksburg City Council members who want to know more. Why?

The city loaned the slavery museum $1 million in 2002 with the understanding that it would conduct demographic, cultural, economic-impact, and other studies regarding Celebrate Virginia South. In addition, the council has supported the project by allowing a museum-requested height variance. So why the reluctance to release the results of the aforementioned studies, which, according to the financial report, already have been conducted?

The report shows that the museum spent $3,900 on a traffic study, $10,094 on demographic and marketing studies, $255,621 preparing preliminary plans, and so on. City officials would like to take a look at the results, but museum spokesman Michael J. Smith said museum officials "don't plan to release any of the reports."

Now comes word that the museum may ask the city for more money. The cause is worthy, the request may be justified, but museum officials need to realize that playing cat-and-mouse with the public makes people think there's a trap around somewhere.

It's time for Mr. Wilder to insist that his project in Fred-ericksburg be at least as transparent as he's demanding that the Richmond performing-arts endeavor be. Why be contentious? It's cooperation that builds communities--and museums.