Energy, Imagination, and Passion
Photography by Dave Doody
Colin G. Campbell
NBC’s Al Roker and Matt Lauer interviewed Colin Campbell when The Today Show broadcast from the Historic Area in September.
Near the end of a meeting of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s leadership team—a meeting spent assessing the impact of the global financial crisis on our organization and the sometimes painful responses it forced on us—a curator asked, “How can we let people know that we are being good stewards of this institution in these times?”
It’s a fair question and one perhaps best answered by sharing not only with her and her colleagues but with you the principles we have formulated to carry us through to the recovery ahead. It is, I think, to borrow a phrase from a valued associate, a program of thoughtful boldness.
In a time of financial stress it is critical that we maintain the quality of our programs and services. We also have to avoid compromising our core competencies; that is, we must be sure the organization is sustainable for the longer term, and able to respond from a programmatic and service perspective when the economic situation improves. Until then, we are observing operating schedules across the foundation that are financially realistic, flexible, and responsive to guest preferences. Finally, we are moving toward a “flatter” organization, one with fewer layers, to encourage greater flexibility, innovation, efficiency, and effectiveness.
We are well aware of the challenges ahead, and of the impact the recession had on Colonial Williamsburg and its employees in 2008. Yet the numbers are better than we might have expected given the massive shock our economy has experienced. On balance, our results offer encouragement for a bright future.
At year's end, we found that our 2008 general admission ticket sales were down, falling about 9 percent to a little more than 707,000. This translates to close to two million guest visits to our site, taking account of those with multiday or annual passes. And revenue from ticket sales rose to $18.5 million, up $250,000. Those totals were impressive given the recessionary climate and record high gasoline prices at the peak of the summer tourist season that discouraged travel.
Evening program and carriage-ride ticket sales were off by 3 percent to 301,000. Visitation to the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg dipped 8 percent to 218,000, and Historic Area bus ridership slipped 100,000 to 2.1 million. But that’s not only in the context of a severe recession; it is also compared with 2007, the year of Jamestown’s four-hundredth anniversary, when Queen Elizabeth II came to call amid a year-long series of signature events sponsored by the commemoration.
In the Products Division, direct marketing sales rose 1 percent, and retail store sales fell 15 percent, as did all Merchants Square shops. In a major move designed to reduce costs and increase the reach of our business, we determined to outsource warehouse and call center functions beginning in the spring of 2009. Products also signed a multiyear distribution deal with television retailer QVC that offers a WILLIAMSBURG-brand program, and we licensed new garden and holiday products.
Room occupancy and overall hospitality revenues were off approximately 9 percent, in part because of increasingly aggressive price competition in room rates, and in part because of promotions at lower rates essential to attract overnight guests. The conference business was disappointing, because companies and associations curtailed off-site meetings.
Although disappointing in absolute terms, Colonial Williamsburg’s investment performance of -17.6 percent in 2008 was outstanding in relation to comparable endowed institutions, some of which experienced declines of as much as 30 percent for the year. The market value of the foundation’s endowment was $611 million at year’s end, a decline of $209 million, including withdrawals to meet operating and routine capital needs.
The endowment’s relatively strong performance in the face of record market declines was coupled with gratifying fund-raising results at a time when people were reevaluating and in some instances reducing charitable contributions. Total donations of cash and objects rose 2 percent, to more than $42 million in 2008, an increase of $900,000 from the year before, and the highest figure in many years. Our new gifts, grants, and pledges total fell $5 million to $38 million. There was a 1.5 percent drop in contributions to the Colonial Williamsburg Fund, again, in relative terms, a quite impressive result. The $14.7 million the fund produced came from 111,000 households in fifty states, and 20,000 families became first-time donors. Gifts from individuals in the Williamsburg area rose 37 percent, which was particularly heartening support from our community.
Planned gifts, including bequest intentions, totaled more than $140 million by year’s end, a tremendous asset. Based on experience, we know that we have many friends who have provided for Colonial Williamsburg in their estates but have not informed us of their plans. For example, of the $18 million in seven-figure bequests the foundation has received recently, we knew of half. This offers reason for a high degree of confidence going forward.
All in all, I’m very gratified by the commitment of our friends to maintain and even increase their support when the going gets rough. No matter, however, what encouragement we took from the support of our donors and other heartening results, it became abundantly clear in 2008 that we needed to adjust our mode of operation to protect our future.
We found it necessary to eliminate 140 filled positions, and 140 that were currently vacant, extend seasonal layoffs, shorten work hours for some nonsalaried staff, freeze all salaries, require salaried employees to take seven furlough days, reduce officer salaries, and adopt reduced operating schedules for some hospitality facilities. These steps and others reduced expenditures by $18 million by year’s end. By early 2009, the number of positions eliminated exceeded 300, and the budgetary savings in all areas reached $26 million. The cooperation of foundation employees throughout this painful period has been exemplary.
In September, following the departure of Historic Area Vice President Rex Ellis for a senior position at the new Smithsonian museum of African American history, we merged the Research Division and Historic Area Division into a new Research and Historical Interpretation Division under Vice President Jim Horn. We also expanded the Collections, Conservation, and Museums Division under Vice President Ron Hurst to include responsibility for archaeological and architectural collections.
In early 2008, the board of trustees announced plans for an executive leadership transition and later in the year began a search for my successor as president and chief executive officer. Toward the end of the year, Chairman Richard Tilghman and I were concerned about proceeding with a leadership change in, by then, a difficult economic environment. After the chairman had consulted with the other trustees, and I had consulted with my wife, Nancy, we all agreed that I should stay on as president and chief executive officer through 2010.
Nancy and I feel privileged to continue to serve Colonial Williamsburg for many reasons, but important among them is the opportunity to work with all of you whose support has been so generous and who have added such treasured dimensions to our lives here. We look forward to seeing you at Colonial Williamsburg in the years ahead. If what we accomplished in 2008 is an indication, we think that you will find your visit very satisfying.
Thanks to a $5 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Forrest E. Mars Jr. of Big Horn, Wyoming, we broke ground for rebuilding on its original foundations a 1765 establishment that catered to Williamsburg’s elite, Charlton’s Coffeehouse.
The largest and most important Duke of Gloucester Street project in fifty years, the reconstruction is a One Foundation effort involving architects, archaeologists, historians, Historic Trades, curators, conservators, and facilities and maintenance staff. It is to be furnished—based on careful study of probate records, printed accounts, and period graphics—with reproduction furniture, ceramics, glassware, hardware, maps, prints, advertisements, broadsides, and newspapers. Set to open in November 2009, Charlton’s will offer ticketed guests eighteenth-century-style chocolate, hot coffee, and tea. It will also provide valuable insight into the social, business, and political developments of the time.
Revolutionary City, our daily two-hour dramatic enactments of pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary War events, expanded with the introduction of Revolutionary Stories at other times during the day. It also now includes Building a Nation, which turns the spotlight on the postwar years and Williamsburg’s role in the formal establishment of the United States.
Guests got to know the mistress of the Bray School for Negro Children, Anne Wager, and colonial printer and champion of independence Alexander Purdie this past year. They join a group of Nation Builders that includes General George Washington, George Wythe’s cook Lydia Broadnax, preacher Gowan Pamphlet, and, of course, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.
At Bassett Hall, our guests were introduced in 2008 to another new character, the Reverend Dr. William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, who proposed the city’s restoration to philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. Mr. Rockefeller’s former home is a particularly fine setting to focus on this fascinating aspect of Colonial Williamsburg’s history.
At Great Hopes Plantation, an exhibition of a small family farm, Historic Trades carpenters built a corn house, a well, and a smokehouse. A modest plantation house will be the next project at this popular site. At the Geddy Foundry, Historic Trades began reproducing eighteenth-century artillery pieces to rediscover the mysteries of casting mortars and cannon. A grant from the Ambrose and Ida Fredrickson Foundation provided support for the project.
Among the exhibits mounted at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum was Captured Colors: Four Battle Flags of the American Revolution, featuring rare and remarkably well-preserved flags returned to America after having been taken to England by Banastre Tarleton 225 years ago. Another exhibit, Quilted Fashions, comprised dozens of bed coverings, garments, and other quilted objects from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mary and Clinton Gilliland funded the exhibit through the Turner-Gilliland Family Fund. In December we opened Sidewalks to Rooftops: Outdoor Folk Art at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. One of the museum’s most creative installations, this long-term display of our tobacco-store figures, carousel animals, shop signs, and weather vanes was underwritten by Barry Boone in memory of his wife, Linda Boone. A rare exhibit of the work of nineteenth-century sculptor Asa Ames also opened in December.
Of course, we don’t just wait for guests to come to us. We take Colonial Williamsburg to them.
The Fifes and Drums, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, became a corps of international Colonial Williamsburg ambassadors, participating in, among other events, the prestigious Tattoo in Basel, Switzerland, and the nationally televised 82nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The corps hosted a Drummers Call that featured ten units of military musicians from across the nation. Not only was the event webcast but we also produced a two-disk DVD set, Drummers Call—America’s Fife and Drum Tradition. In July, large crowds were moved and excited when 400 returning Fifes and Drums alumni joined with today’s corps in a march down Duke of Gloucester Street.
Our four-time Emmy-award-winning electronic field trip series again reached approximately six million students and their teachers in forty-eight states and three foreign countries with seven instructional programs. They aired in 130 television markets, seventeen statewide educational broadcast systems, and on the Internet.
We conducted Teaching American History conferences for schoolteachers in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. Organized on such topics as “Bringing History to Life in Your Classroom,” they often included costumed historical interpreters from the Historic Area. More classroom professionals came to Williamsburg for the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, an annual summer series of weeklong history immersion programs.
Our History-Social Science for California curriculum, produced in partnership with Pearson Scott Foresman, was adopted by half of California’s elementary schools.
Nearly three million California students will use Colonial Williamsburg classroom materials for the next six years.
Our Web sites drew approximately twenty-two million visits, a 3 percent rise. Especially popular was a preelection Thomas Jefferson blog that explored his thoughts on representative government. Virtual guests visited more than 180 million pages of information, media, history, exhibition, products, vacation planning, and hospitality content online . . . an 85 percent increase in Web use.
The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a $600,000 Digital Humanities Challenge Grant to the foundation’s Digital History Center to establish a 3D Visualization Lab, and the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services made a $943,000 National Leadership Grant to help the center create virtual versions of the Capitol, the Secretary’s Office, the Douglass Theatre, Charlton’s Coffeehouse, and the Raleigh Tavern in the Historic Area’s east end.
These awards make us a leader among museums and historic sites in the application of cutting edge, virtual reality technology to public education and cultural heritage projects. They are important to the effort to attract new and younger audiences to Colonial Williamsburg and to enriching on-site visitor experience by providing sophisticated interactive materials online.
Internet lodging reservations accounted for 25 percent of our bookings, a 12 percent increase over 2007. The transactional and informational activity on the Internet is an important means of facilitating visits to Colonial Williamsburg, and of making the process quick and easy. It will also help guests make the most effective use of their time here. It may prove to be our most important communications channel for guests and prospective guests in the coming years, if it is not already.
Finally, Colonial Williamsburg had some very gratifying television exposure in 2008. NBC’s Today Show broadcast live from Duke of Gloucester Street one September morning. The early morning crowd of townspeople and students offered an enthusiastic greeting to Matt Lauer and Al Roker.
At year’s end, Tom Hanks narrated a powerful thirty-second public service announcement praising Colonial Williamsburg as an experience every American should have. It will be viewed across the country in 2009.
Virginia’s legislature approved premium license plates bearing Colonial Williamsburg’s seal and signature script, sales of which will benefit the foundation. We were again a featured sponsor of the annual Macy’s Flower Show in New York, published five books, and produced new versions of our popular Vacation Planner and Christmas brochure.
It is certain that in the years ahead, each of us entrusted with stewardship of this remarkable place must find ways to simplify what we do and the way we do it. The job will take energy, imagination, and passion for Colonial Williamsburg’s mission.
Our strategic focus must remain on attracting guests by presenting engaging and important programs and memorable experiences, and on providing top-quality guest service. It is imperative that we honor our commitment to observing the highest standards in everything we do. That is a commitment shared by employees in all components of the foundation’s complex set of activities.
Nancy and I are delighted by the opportunity to continue to serve Colonial Williamsburg, feel blessed for the opportunity to work with donors and staff who have added such important dimensions to our lives, and are gratified for the chance to help advance the foundation as the economy recovers.
As much as anyone privileged to be part of this place, I, too, have a passion for the mission of Colonial Williamsburg. The foundation has weathered difficult times before, and it will emerge from the current downturn a leaner, stronger institution. This is, after all, an institution dedicated to the belief that the future may learn from the past.
Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation