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Washington and Lee University museums reopen

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:45 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - While the museums at Washington and Lee University were closed for 17 months because of COVID, things may have looked quiet.

But inside, work always continued.

“It does not cease,” said Dr. Lynn Rainville, W&L’s Director of Institutional History and Museums. “No. Never.”

Three new shows are opening in two of the on-campus museums with their re-admittance of the public.

“We are exploring different ways to bring new voices into our exhibitions and expand the stories that we can tell,” Rainville explained.

They demonstrate a new approach in the entire museum system, providing more shorter term displays to bring out more of the University’s collection as well as bring outside material in.

“Among other things, since we’re an academic institution, you know, we have most of our audience is here for just four years,” Rainville said. “So you can imagine, if we took the approach of perhaps the Smithsonian and kept exhibits up for 20 years at a time, that would give students in every four years a very limited perspective on our over 12,000 objects that we have in our museums here.”

Not to mention changes in the university’s approach to its own history, marked by the name change for what used to be called Lee Chapel.

“It’s the University Chapel and Galleries,” Rainville said. “So upstairs you’ll have auditorium space, and then the second half of the building – the 1883 addition – will be a series of galleries to tour, which will include the crypt, Lee’s office, the recumbent Lee, and then three new galleries that will come on line over the next year.”

The first show there will open in a few months.

In the meantime, they continue to bring students into all the museums for classes with the objects.

“We are a university with a museum, not a museum with a university,” said Rainville.

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