Five Questions for the New President of the Virginia Historical Society

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Jamie O. Bosket starts his new role as the next president and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society in late February.
  • Jamie O. Bosket starts his new role as the next president and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society in late February.

After a six-month national search, the board of trustees of the Virginia Historical Society announced the appointment of Jamie O. Bosket as its next president and chief executive. He starts his new role Feb. 27.

For now Bosket remains vice president for Guest Experience at George Washington's Mount Vernon, one of the most visited historic sites of its kind in the country. He holds a master's degree in museum studies from George Washington University and an undergraduate degree in history from the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Bosket also serves on the board of the Virginia Association of Museums, representing Northern Virginia, and on the board of the Alexandria Historical Society.

While it's early in the game, Style caught up with him to ask five introductory questions regarding the new role at the nonprofit.

What was your biggest takeaway from your former job?

History matters ... and your audience matters. Staying true to history and authenticity doesn't have to be at odds with fun and dynamic programming. Meeting expectations for a modern and evolving audience doesn't devalue historical collections. Successful museums must build on their strength, evolve with their community, and be ever-responsive to their constituents.

What most interests you about the history of the Commonwealth?

The history of the Commonwealth is at the very heart of the American experience. You can rarely find a pivotal moment or character in the history of this nation that doesn't have a root in this wonderful state. Its influence and ideas have shaped our present and will inform our future.

How did you sell yourself to the VHS?

My love of history and museums is a primary part of who I am. My personal goal -- in previous museum roles as with this new chapter -- is to blend my passion for preserving and sharing history with creativity and innovation in order to serve the public and enrich their lives through a better understanding of the past. The VHS is one of the nation's preeminent history institutions, and is exceptionally strong. I am hopeful to build on their past success with fresh ideas, a strong focus on guest engagement and programming, and a renewed focus on expanding our reach across the state. I was very fortunate to lead an exceptional team at Mount Vernon that helped foster learning, drive attendance, and strengthen financial support.

What do you see as VHS’s strengths and weaknesses?

The VHS has one of the best historical narratives to tell ... it has rich collections and scholarship, a remarkable board, talented staff, a fantastic and historic facility, a vibrant community and a long and storied institutional track record. Its primary challenge will be finding a meaningful and lasting way to reach all areas of the Commonwealth as its presence outside of the greater Richmond area isn't as strong as it deserves to be. It will also take effort to keep adapting, as all museums must, as generations and expectations change.

Anything you can say about future plans for “innovative revenue-generating programs”?

Stay tuned, this will be a major focus of future strategic planning, and the collective effort of VHS's talented staff. Just like Mount Vernon, the VHS doesn't rely on government funding, it depends on its generous supporters and members, as well as on its own ingenuity and entrepreneurship. As all museums must, including those well-positioned like the VHS, we will need to be thoughtful about ways to bring in more and new people going forward, and tell stories that resonate and have impact. We also must foster programming that allows learning and leisure to work in harmony, and activities that inspire and engage younger generations.

Editor's note: Regarding the question below in comments: "with the loss of Dr. Lauranett Lee, will there be another curator of African American history hired? If not, what will VHS do to keep the important story, input, and voice of the African American community viable and accurate in its endeavors?" Bosket replied:

"It is too soon to say. However, this will certainly be an important question and consideration upon my arrival. It is critical for good history telling to make sure all voices are present. In the interim, I am reassured by learning from the staff that the interpretation of any part of Virginia's remarkable story is not the sole responsibility of any one staff member. Exhibitions, digital projects, scholarship and other programs are the work of an accomplished team."

The VHS is located at 428 North Boulevard in Richmond’s Museum District. Hours are Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. for the galleries and museum shop, Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. for the library. For more information about the VHS call (804) 358-4901, visit vahistorical.org, or connect with the VHS on Facebook and Twitter.

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