Statement of Purpose Workshops and Progress Meetings
For each phase of the project, the design team has conducted a variety of meetings each with the goal of garnering feedback from diverse participants. For the Statement of Purpose, the design team facilitated a Kick-Off Workshop of invited scholars, researchers, historians, audience advocates, artists, and cultural non-profit professionals, conducted small group and individual interviews and listening sessions, facilitated a Large Forum Community Consultation Meeting, and hosted an Educators and Scholars Progress Meeting. A brief description of each of the meetings follows:
- Statement of Purpose Workshop
- Small Group and Individual Listening Sessions
- Progress Meeting - Educator and Scholars Workshop
Statement of Purpose Workshop
The Purpose of the Workshop was to assemble a diverse group of scholars, educators, audience advocates, artists, ministers, and other stakeholders to recommend the central questions, priority audiences, learning objectives, and core messages for the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre Project. In sum, participants were charged with discussing “what success looks like” for the project and how the design team might determine if they achieved that success.
Through a combination of forced response, prioritization, break-out and report sessions, and blue-sky activities, participants were encouraged to provide a quantity of input from diverse perspectives regarding the purposes and audiences for the project. The SOP workshop was a prelude to subsequent community meetings and expert workshops that will determine the content and design of the ultimate project proposal. Discussions were structured around:
- Central Questions
- Prioritized Audiences
- Learning Objectives for each Audience
- Core Messages
Workshop participants were provided with an introductory overview of the status and scope of the work, the site location, and the scale and importance of the domestic slave trade to Richmond and the nation. It was reiterated that the current physical location of the project is confined to the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre, but the interpretive outreach program from this physical site could integrate any relevant subject matter related to Shockoe Bottom and the slave trade. In addition, the site is considered a hub, part of a network, or a seed site by the City of Richmond. When successfully completed it is hoped this project will inspire more expansive preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the Shockoe Bottom and the Richmond Slave Trade. The intent of the workshop was not to focus on content, storylines, or design, but rather to determine the purpose of the project: its central questions, audiences, learning/communication objectives, and core messages.
The workshop succeeded in generating a rich, high-level discussion of the project’s purpose, aspirations, central questions and core messages. Lively break-out team discussions afforded participants ample time to express their perspectives on priority audiences and associated learning objectives. The group dynamic was positive and inclusive throughout with easy and frequent opportunities to express ideas and points-of-view. As a result, both the quantity and quality of input was high.
Participants stressed that the history of the Richmond Slave Trade and the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre was important, but its relevance to current social, cultural, economic, educational, and psychological conditions for the African-American community must also be articulated. Revealing the horror and evil of enslavement in authentic, tangible ways was considered critical, but the story of overcoming, persistence, resilience, resistance, and courage by the enslaved people was equally important.
As one participant stated, “Our dreams did not die in that site.”
Small Group and Individual Listening Sessions
As part of the development process for the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre project, the project team interviewed several Richmond-based stakeholders and subject matter experts to gain their perspective on the project and its potential. The stakeholders included museum and cultural/non-profit professionals, independent historians, community activists, and other constituents. The goal was to obtain individual or small group feedback and conduct listening sessions outside of the large forum public meetings to hear specific ideas, concerns, and opinions.
The objectives of these interviews and listening sessions included:
- To gather and exchange information with constituents regarding the history, issues, and concerns relevant to enslaved Africans in Shockoe Bottom and the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre.
- To gather information regarding the interpretive and physical scope of the current Project.
- To garner further feedback on the core questions and drafts presented at the community consultation meetings.
- To advance the success of the Project by establishing mutual definitions and understandings of the project’s process, projected outcomes, scope, and scale.
The outcomes of these conversations and insight obtained became a part of the overall feedback that has been included in the Statement of Purpose, the foundational document against which all decisions on the project are measured.
Progress Meeting - Educators and Scholars Workshop
The project team hosted a Statement of Purpose progress meeting specifically geared towards Educators and Scholars in September 2017. This meeting was scheduled at the end of the Statement of Purpose phase and at the initiation of the Visitor Experience Plan phase of the project. Recognizing that the interpretation of this historical site must be held to the highest quality of scholarly research, the team has included a diverse set of professionals in the education (both K-12 and higher education), history, research, and interpretive fields in the formative conversations about this project. The purpose of hosting a specific Educators and Scholars Workshop is to validate and prioritize the content, story lines, and interpretive agenda for the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre Project. Using the Statement of Purpose and initial Visitor Experience progress report, the project team mapped content and story lines to the central questions, learning objectives, and audiences. The participants of the Educators and Scholars workshop and the project team then refined and prioritized the content and story lines and recommended alternate content. The workshop included forced response, break out groups, and clicker surveys as means of structuring discussions and gaining input.
While the results of the workshop exercises illustrated some differences between community responses to the elements of the Statement of Purpose and those of the scholars and educators, the differences between the groups were not drastic, but rather a matter of emphasis. The scholars and educators were clearly focused on telling the specific story of the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre and of Shockoe Bottom. The Robert and Mary Lumpkin story and the roots of VUU were seen as a distinctive, positive, story that must be integrated into the narrative. The horror and evils of slavery were determined to be presented with candor, facts, and honesty; both the “pain and the promise” must be present in the interpretive experience.
The workshop participants echoed the concerns that the project team had heard from the public and the small group interviews regarding the voice that would tell the story - who tells the story and how. The legacy of slavery on life in Richmond today was very important to the scholars and educators and integrating the regional story of the slave trade in Richmond was a priority for participants who also suggested linking it to American History and the US economy generally to avoid the story being isolated as an African-American story only.
Personalizing the narrative was important to the workshop participants, including the stories of individual enslaved Africans who passed through Richmond, Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre and Shockoe Bottom. These stories should include the stories of resistance, resilience, and overcoming of the evils of slavery.
Workshop participants were clearly interested in the relevance of the site and story to now; what it means to the contemporary learner. A museum as a public form and forum was preferred by the group as it represents respect, validity, value, and monumentality.