Visitor Experience Plan Workshops and Progress Meetings

 

For each phase of the project, the design team conducted a variety of meetings each with the goal of garnering feedback from diverse participants. For the Visitor Experience Plan, the design team facilitated a Kick-Off Workshop of invited scholars, researchers, artists, historians, and cultural non-profit professionals, facilitated a Large Forum Community Consultation Meeting, hosted three Progress Meetings, and administered a web-based survey. A brief description of each engagement follows:

  • Visitor Experience Plan Workshop
  • Progress Meeting #1
  • Progress Meeting #2
  • Progress Meeting #3 (in conjunction with Concept Design Progress Meeting #1)
  • Web-Based Survey

 

Visitor Experience Plan Workshop

The Visitor Experience Plan Workshop was held in May 2017.  The purpose of the Workshop was to assemble a diverse group of scholars, educators, audience advocates, artists, ministers, and other stakeholders, to gather ideas and reach some consensus on the characteristics, features, and experiences the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre. What must it have to be meaningful, powerful, and successful?  

The core of the Workshop consisted of four group exercises designed to help define the eventual visitor experience: address its emotional impact, attract a diverse audience, define key narratives and interpretive threads, and consider a look and feel of the site and its surroundings.

Of the twenty participants in this workshop, eleven had previously participated in the Statement of Purpose workshop. This workshop included group exercises, smaller break-out sessions, and discussions. After each exercise, the larger group reconvened, and the recorders shared each breakout group’s findings. The exercises conducted centered around:

  • Emotional Impact
  • Dealing with Denial
  • Narratives and Interpretive Threads
  • Sense of Place – What Kind of Experience?

The Workshop concluded with a final discussion session. Participants decided that constructing the visitor experience for this site will be an exercise in truth-telling. It was acknowledged that important work has already been done: the archaeological site was a buried truth that has now literally been uncovered and exposed, for example. Participants collectively realized that this project offers the opportunity to set a new precedent of telling American history, an honest appraisal and one that could last for generations.

Participants believed that we must uncover the past and face our heritage and the atrocities of our history. They felt that it is crucial to learn about America at its worst and own up to the fact that our country was built on this history. Another conclusion was that the legacy of slavery is particularly relevant today as it relates to a lineage of racism, bias, and oppression.

One participant noted, “We each sit here with opportunity in our laps, to make choices that can affect history and how we tell it. At this site, and in our own lives, we have an opportunity to truly make a difference.” 

 

Progress Meeting #1

The first of three Visitor Experience Plan Progress Meetings was held in August 2017.  The purpose of the meeting was to present and review progress based on the findings of the Statement of Purpose Community Consultation Meeting, the findings from the Visitor Experience Plan workshop, and to further develop interpretive strategies and techniques. The meeting was more intimate in size, allowing for focused discussion about specific topics and included historians, artists, researchers, museum professionals, and City of Richmond staff.

After a review of the key findings from the exercises in the Visitor Experience Plan Workshop, an initial draft of the Visitor Experience Vision Statement was presented, discussed, and edited. The project team reviewed the anatomy of a visitor experience and some of the suggested narratives that came from the Workshop. These included: perceptions of slavery, truth of slavery, business of slavery, survival and legacy.  Target audiences were also discussed further, based upon the Statement of Purpose findings and current draft. 

Key Visitor Takeaways—the important messages that every visitor should understand upon leaving the experience—were grouped into cognitive and emotional categories. Narrative frameworks, interpretive threads, and approaches to content (chronological, thematic, and chrono-thematic) were also discussed, as was the site’s archaeological relevance.

Participants also examined interpretive strategies and experience approaches in advance of the next Progress Meeting, which would define the visitor experience in more detail.

 

Progress Meeting #2

The second of three Progress Meetings in this phase was held in September 2017.  The purpose of this meeting was to advance and refine the approach, interpretive strategies, and techniques for the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site / Devil’s Half Acre project. The meeting was more intimate in size, allowing for focused discussion about specific topics and included historians, artists, researchers, museum professionals, and City of Richmond staff.

The meeting began with an overview of the existing archaeological information to date followed by a discussion of what the experience at this site might be, which included potential collaborations, connections to other sites, and tourism, in addition to programming opportunities and educational alignment. 

Key audiences were refined from the previous meeting and a summary of the visitor takeaways, interpretive threads, narrative framework, and initial emotional sequencing of the visitor experience from the first progress meeting were also discussed.

There was also healthy discussion about several entity types and how participants defined each: is this a museum, visitor center, interpretive center, or something else? Examples of each were given and discussed with the group. Spoken-word artist Harold Green was invited to discuss his work on another project which focuses on Holocaust survivors, evocations of remembrance, collective trauma and memory, and the measure of strength and perseverance.

The project team then presented four approaches for the story and the site to participants. Discussion centered around what may evolve into the interpretive “pillars” of the project.

The meeting ended with a discussion about the exercises to be presented at next large forum Community Consultation Meeting, which took place in October 2017.

 

Progress Meeting #3 (in conjunction with Concept Design Progress Meeting #1)

The third Progress Meeting was held in conjunction with the architectural team and specifically addressed site archaeology, both physically and interpretively. This workshop built upon the Visitor Experience Workshop, prior Progress Meetings, the Large Forum Community Consultation Meeting, and the Concept Design Workshop.

The Progress Meeting was held in February 2018 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The project team coordinated with Museum Director, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, who presented a series of “lessons learned” from his experience developing and building the Smithsonian museum on the National Mall. Progress Meeting participants included artists, researchers, academics, city officials, community organizers, and high school students.

The project team shared the key opportunities and challenges of the project site as well as a summary of the site analysis and observations. One of the biggest questions for the project team involved the archaeology itself and how a building will mass around it and how visitors will engage with it. These questions were the focus of the exercises, which asked participants to choose where in the visitor experience the archaeology should fit. In the second exercise participants evaluated and voted on concept design goals that would guide the project. Finally, a wish-list program for the entity was presented to the group for questions and discussion.

 

Web Based Survey

A Web-Based Survey was sent to the project’s mailing list of 300+ individuals in November 2017.  This survey was designed to get targeted, specific feedback from those public constituents that did not attend the Visitor Experience Plan Community Consultation Meeting in October 2017.

The survey focused on Emotional Takeaways of future visitors for the project. The project team asked the survey respondents to prioritize the two most important emotions they want visitors to feel and experience when they visit the site. The categories included potential audiences defined by the Statement of Purpose and the Progress Meetings for the Visitor Experience Plan: local, regional, and national tourists; families; middle and high school students and teachers; indifferent citizens; historians, researchers, and scholars; policy-makers and politicians; donors and decision-makers.

The survey also asked what was the single most critical emotion that ALL visitors must leave this site feeling, the two highest priority stories that must be told at the site. Respondents could also leave their own feedback for the project team.