History is the main focus of the Loudoun Museum, but 2018 was a year people associated with the museum would probably rather forget.
The executive director was fired and the museum closed its doors indefinitely in July. Entering a new year, Loudoun Museum has new leadership, a new executive director and plans to reopen with a fresh exhibit and public event Jan. 24.
“It has not just been a rough year, it has been a rough couple of years,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman-at-Large Phyllis Randall said. “We have had many years of rough going financially, but I stand 100 percent behind the new leadership and want to see what they can do.”
The new direction starts with a new board of trustees, including Chairman Michael O’Connor and Vice Chairwoman Sharon Virts. Shortly after that board took over, there was an abrupt change in direction and focus. By July, former Executive Director Leslie Mazeska was fired and the rest of the museum staff resigned. The trustees decided to close the museum indefinitely in an effort to back up and get a running start.
In September, the trustees went to the county board and laid out their vision for Loudoun Museum’s future, and the supervisors reluctantly agreed to restore funding at the rate of $156,000 per year, the amount set in a 2016 agreement between the parties.
“There were people in the past with good intentions yet they had no real business plan,” Randall said. “We have leaders who stepped up and care about the community but also know how to run it as a business. They have hired professional staff and have already had one fund-raiser. I am more than willing to give them a chance.”
Joseph Rizzo, who has more than 10 years of experience in both museums and historical sites, has been brought on as the new executive director. Rizzo said his main goal is to better connect Loudoun Museum with the community.
“With the museum and with Leesburg, especially, there is a lot of potential for people to learn about local history and tap into the rich history of the area,” Rizzo said. “There is definitely a lot of work to do, but it is a challenge worth taking. One thing the museum needs to do is to become an outreach museum. It needs to be a museum of Loudoun, not just a museum in Loudoun.”
Rizzo said that starts with lively exhibits that involve and interest the local community. To that end, the initial exhibit, which is being prepared to open before the end of January, is about the impact of the Civil War on all sectors of Loudoun County’s society.
The exhibit is titled, “Caught in the Maelstrom of Civil War: Loudoun County Divided.”
“When you look at the museum now, and it has been closed for six months, it is clear the people in the town never had a strong emotional connection to the museum,” Rizzo said. “You walk though it, and it doesn’t bridge the gap between what’s on display and what the community thinks. Going forward, we will have a more dynamic story to tell. We are getting the museum ready to open in late January, and hopefully we will have more details in the next couple weeks.”
Rizzo said the museum plans to make an initial push to get the community involved and interested, then transition into building long-term relationships.
“This initial exhibit will be free to the public,” Rizzo said. “We hope it will be a bridge into our long-term goal, which is to have a permanent exhibit throughout the museum that tells the whole history of Loudoun County.”
Rizzo said he sees the historic cabin next door to the museum building and the Odd Fellows Hall on the second story as potential sites for forums and speakers to further engage the community.
“The history of Loudoun County is unique in many ways,” Rizzo said. “The board has been very helpful and they have a vision and desire to see the museum succeed. Everyone involved wants to see it become more relevant and interesting throughout the community. We need to tell stories, to tell Loudoun’s story.”
Rizzo said the museum reopening Jan. 24 will include a prestigious speaker on a topical relevant to Loudoun County.
“Our first speaker on the 24th will be Dr. Peter Carmichael, director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg,” Rizzo said. “We hope to have regular forums and speakers to keep the community involved.”
For more information, visit loudounmuseum.org.