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CW Journal : Summer 00 : Message From the President

Message From the President

Excellence and Integration
An Interview With Colin Campbell

President Colin Campbell and his wife Nancy

President Colin Campbell and his wife Nancy.
--Kelly Mihalcoe

Soon after his election as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's eighth president, Colin Campbell took time to answer questions about his aspirations, plans, and perspectives. Below is an edited transcript of the interview. A Foundation trustee since 1989, Campbell became chairman in November 1998, and succeeds Acting President Rick Nahm in the chief executive's post. A news story appears in the "Colonial Williamsburg Today" section of the journal.


What is on your to-do list?


There are a number of things that I would list as the challenges of the moment.

One is the comprehensive campaign, so important to Colonial Williamsburg's aspirations.

One is the extension of the educational program.

One will certainly be the internal organization of the Foundation. I want to be sure that we are structured in a way to meet our obligations most effectively; that the educational activities are organized in a way that will make that progress most innovative and most effective; that business operations are set up in a way that assures that they realize the return that is needed to provide the kind of support they are intended to provide for education programming and preservation.

I want to deal with those organizational issues quite directly in the months immediately ahead. That has to do in part with the organization of the Colonial Williamsburg Company and also has to do with the relationship between the company and the Foundation. Because in addition to businesses functioning effectively as businesses, we want, both on the education side and the business side, to emphasize excellence and integration.

The relationship with the Williamsburg community-near term, medium term, and long term-is also an obligation and priority for me. I am absolutely committed to continuing the efforts begun so successfully by Rick Nahm to develop closer ties with the College of William and Mary and with Thomas Nelson Community College.

I also believe that plans for enhancing Merchants Square are very much on target.


Mrs. Campbell has an impressive record in the historic preservation movement. Will she pursue that interest at Colonial Williamsburg?


She has always been an active participant in historic preservation programs wherever she has lived and she is a very strong supporter of, and participant in, Colonial Williamsburg's Antiques Forum. I know that she has already signed up for several Williamsburg Institute activities. She likes being a participant and is a marvelous host, as well.


Is Colonial Williamsburg a museum with a resort attached, or a resort with a museum attached. Is there a balance?


Balance, to me, is not quite the right word; I prefer relationship. There is an extraordinarily important relationship between the educational offerings of the Historic Area and museums and the places where people can have a large variety of hospitality experiences. Providing this hospitality is a very valuable part of what we do, and must be closely integrated with the educational program. In recent years we have been increasingly successful at that integration, and we have to continue on that path.

I do not share this ambivalence about whether we are a museum or resort. I take a holistic view of Colonial Williamsburg, an integrated view. Everything we do is tightly related to everything else.

That is to say, we talk about hotel décor and program sharing and product design and use. For me they all come together under a common umbrella, an umbrella that emphasizes the educational messages we want to convey, and that emphasizes that everything we do is of the highest quality.

It seems to me that where Williamsburg has been and should continue to be distinctive is in its commitment to excellence, whether it be products, or hotels, taverns, educational outreach, or visits to the Historic Area. That is something that I think is terribly important.


What else might such integration encompass?


Certainly, it can be programmatic. It is making sure, in appropriate ways, that visitors who have come to play golf recognize, and are directed to, the educational opportunity that is there as well. And that people who are spending lots of time on Duke of Gloucester Street recognize that they can move into the 21st-century facilities for a lunch, a rest, a swim, and a game of golf or whatever. It seems to me those are unusually compatible activities that we could cross-market more effectively. This is something that Rick has been paying special attention to, and I'm right in line with him on that.

It could happen even more at the Inn and the Lodge. I know that Sue Green, who has responsibility for the hotels, shares the view that we can do more of this sort of integrating. I know that the plans for some of the new rooms at the Lodge, for example, include photographs of some of the buildings in the Restoration and some of their history, so that people when they are at the Lodge recognize what they are part of.


The comprehensive campaign?


We clearly have major needs that must be met by traditional financial support over the years immediately ahead, and over the long term as well. What we are talking about is support for the people, support for the places, and support for the purposes of Colonial Williamsburg. During the months immediately ahead, we will be refining how we want to allocate funds raised among those components of the campaign. We are already talking with selected donors, and I think making extremely good progress. I hope a year from now that this campaign will be well along. At this point it has not entered the public phase.


There may be a tendency to suppose that because John D. Rockefeller, Jr., financed Williamsburg's restoration that the Foundation's financial needs are met. But it takes today's donors, doesn't it, to sustain Colonial Williamsburg.


There is no question about that.

The Rockefellers have been extraordinarilygenerous to Colonial Williamsburg, but we long since became, under Chuck Longsworth's and Roger Thaler's leadership, an institution that has developed its own funding base. Thank goodness.

We are going to be up in the neighborhood of 85,000 individual donors in the year 2000 to the annual fund. That is an extraordinary figure, in particular for an organization that doesn't have an alumni body.

It is a large group of stakeholders that have been very generous and made it possible over the past 20 years to carry out the mission and preserve the values of Colonial Williamsburg. I see no reason in the world why we can't build on that going forward.

I think the notion of "it is a Rockefeller institution," in terms of its impact on fundraising, has already been proved to be not a detriment. I think it is an asset.


What shape should the Colonial Williamsburg experience have for those stakeholders and others?


I've always thought that Colonial Williamsburg had several messages to convey. One is the classic message about how and why revolution came about. The second is the physical and cultural context of the Revolution. And the third is the relevance of that period-relevance for today's society in terms of the why, as well as the physical and social contexts.


Let's talk about relevance.


If you start, as I do, with the assumption that there is today a certain alienation from the political process in this country, and if, as I conclude, there is not a deep enough understanding of that process, its origins, and its functioning, I think you can look at how critical events are interpreted at Williamsburg to grasp the significance of civic participation to an effective democracy. It seems to me as if Williamsburg in the period was the essence of civic participation.

I also mentioned the social context, and I think the social context is extremely important. Williamsburg has a continuing opportunity to deal with critical issues of that period that continue to be critical issues today: race, religion, and gender.

All of those matters are currently covered, quite effectively, in Williamsburg programs. I believe there is a perspective you can get from participating in those programs that is relevant to today's world.


Are there programs you would emphasize?


It is probably no secret that I have, in program terms, a very strong interest in the educational outreach component. The reasons are twofold.

One is that if you believe, as I do, in the value of the Colonial Williamsburg educational experience on-site, and you believe, as I do, that you can export a portion of that experience effectively, so that it reaches millions of people-including, in particular, millions of young people at a formative time in their lives-then I think that is a tremendous opportunity. The two programs that I'm talking about in particular are the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute and the electronic field trips. But there is room for even more innovation in this area.

The other reason is that I am absolutely persuaded that when people experience Colonial Williamsburg from afar they are going to want to come here. And that is all to the good.