Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund changes direction of Education Center campaign
Washington, D.C., September 21, 2018 – At its regularly scheduled quarterly meeting, the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) announced today that after a strategic review of the Education Center project, the board is directing the staff to focus on online resources, hand-held technology, education staff, mobile exhibits and partnerships to teach visitors about the Vietnam War and honor those whose names appear on the Memorial, and to terminate efforts to construct a physical building on the National Mall.
The organization will continue integrating its education outreach with its other ongoing programs, including physical maintenance of the Memorial, annual ceremonies, The Wall That Heals mobile exhibit, In Memory program, and meeting groups and individuals at The Wall.
Full statement from the board of directors as delivered by Chairman, John Dibble:
After a strategic review of the Education Center project, the board is directing the staff to focus on online resources, hand-held technology, education staff, mobile exhibits and partnerships to teach visitors about the Vietnam War and honor those whose names appear on the Memorial, and to terminate efforts to construct a physical building on the National Mall.
This project has faced many difficult challenges since Jan Scruggs conceived the idea in 2001. It has been a long road, and we have had many successes along the way due to the support of active volunteers, generous large and grassroots donors, committed Members of Congress, key advisors, construction and design partners, international allies, and our professional staff.
We recognize it has taken the board a long time to make this very difficult decision to change direction, but that is because of our absolute commitment to the vision and what it would have meant for Vietnam veterans and future generations. We wouldn’t have been fulfilling our obligation as a board if we didn’t pursue every single, possible avenue and opportunity to make this project a success.
Unfortunately, we’ve reached that point regarding a physical building on the National Mall as the funding simply has not materialized.
We must acknowledge there are many great things that have come out of the Education Center project, and we will continue building upon those successes. The Wall of Faces online needs just over 2,000 photos to be completed, based on the hard work and dedication of dozens of active volunteers. The online display of nearly 3,000 of the items left at The Wall is the largest publicly available display from this unique collection. We have a mobile tour phone app to use at The Wall, a virtual tour online, an extensive curriculum, and even a mobile education center that travels with our replica of The Wall. Through recent partnership discussions with military museums, we are encouraged that our photos, artifacts, and information eventually will have physical homes within their exhibits. We have a lot to show for our efforts already, and as we look to the future, we will add to these resources.
We know many veterans and supporters are disappointed in this outcome. We also are disappointed that the early enthusiasm and support did not result in a completed building. Since the idea was developed in early 2001, the world is a very different place.
But those changes also have created new opportunities to use technology to put information into the hands of nearly every visitor at The Wall, from grade school students and up. What we can do today, and what we will be able to do tomorrow, will transform and deepen the experience of millions of visitors to the National Mall and millions more who may never visit The Wall.
Estimates are that more than half the visitors to The Wall today were not born when it was dedicated in 1982. That makes it even more important to focus our efforts on the Memorial and all our programs that help people understand the importance of why we have a wall with more than 58,000 names inscribed upon it. In person, online, or on the road – we remain committed to honoring the service of our Vietnam veterans, preserving the legacy of those who gave their lives, and educating all generations about the impact of the Vietnam War.
We have full confidence in our amazing staff to continue our mission into the future.
Since 2001, VVMF was able to raise 1/3 of the $130M needed to complete the project.
According to Chuck Hagel, 24th secretary of defense, a Vietnam veteran and author of the Education Center legislation, “An Education Center building would have become a treasured national asset. However, given that the financial support did not materialize, I believe the Board made the right decision to focus on technology to educate visitors about the Memorial. I think they are on the right track in establishing partnerships with existing museums. There are a great many more contributions that VVMF can continue to make to help future generations understand the Vietnam War through the tools of technology and new partnerships.”
Jim Knotts, president and chief executive officer of VVMF, said, “We will have to work out the details of what this change means, but I am encouraged by the board’s steadfast commitment to going back to our core mission. We will continue maintaining The Wall and the Memorial site with the National Park Service. We will continue hosting our ceremonies. We will continue to meet groups at The Wall and work with teachers to use our curriculum and take our replica of The Wall and its mobile education center around the country. We will continue to integrate information from the Education Center project into all our ongoing programs.”
With donation commitments of $45M, approximately $5M has yet to be received. Of that, $23M has been spent on construction design, exhibit planning, awareness building, and preliminary work necessary for specific exhibits within the project. VVMF collected donations of $17M specifically restricted to hard construction, which may be returned after discussions with those donors.
In 2001, VVMF Founder Jan Scruggs, proposed a structure near The Wall that would be a gathering place for school groups, reunion groups and tour groups to learn about the Memorial before their visit to The Wall. They would learn about its history, its design, the controversy and context for why we now have a wall bearing more than 58,000 names. They hopefully would learn about the service of the Vietnam era veterans, that divisive period in our nation’s history, and the stories of some of the individual names on The Wall. The original concept was a small building of about 2,000 square feet, which was mostly just a covered gathering space.
The concept expanded quickly and the original feasibility study estimated the cost at $40M.
When opposition was raised to an above-ground structure, the concept was pushed toward an underground building, which became a requirement written into the original authorizing legislation in 2003 for VVMF to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitor Center. The requirement to build underground, in a location where the water table is about 15 feet, dramatically increased the cost of the project. The legislation also required that VVMF raise the full amount to complete the project before construction could begin and prohibited any federal funding for this project on The National Mall. The Wall was built solely from private funds, and the legislation required the same for the Education Center.
Going through the required design, development and approval process with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the concept became more refined. It also grew in scope and cost. The size of the building had increased to 40,000 square feet, including an open-air courtyard.
In 2009, VVMF began the Call for Photos project. This was the effort to gather at least one photo for every name on The Wall, which would be necessary for a major exhibit inside the visitor center. Thousands of volunteers across the country began collecting the photos, and VVMF put them online as the Wall of Faces. (The site currently attracts more than 10 million page views each year.)
The focus also shifted toward education, and the working name of the project was changed to Education Center at The Wall. The projected cost at that time was $85M.
When the final design approvals were granted in 2015, the project went from 65% to 95% design complete, and the cost grew from $115M to the current projection of $130M. By comparison, the WWII Memorial, an above-ground installation completed in 2004, cost $182M. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, an above-ground installation completed in 2011, cost $120M. The Smithsonian Museum of African American History, which opened in 2016 and has a significant portion of the building underground, cost $540M.
Also in 2015, VVMF worked with the National Park Service (NPS) to put online thousands of curation records VVMF had produced for items left at The Wall, archived in the NPS collection. That online collection of Items Left at The Wall remains the largest collection of publicly available information about items left at The Wall. VVMF also recreated its exhibits that travel the country with its replica of The Wall. Using the themes and exhibit designs for the Education Center as a guide, the trailer reflected the major exhibits planned on The National Mall. A new set of curricula, available for teachers, was published and distributed through VVMF’s teacher network.
In 2017, in conjunction with the 35th Anniversary of the dedication of The Wall, VVMF released its first version of a Mobile Tour phone app, which included information about each person listed on The Wall. It also included videos about the history of the memorial, its design, and the original controversy. App users were introduced to individuals on The Wall, which also represented topics like: prisoners of war, the missing in action, women on The Wall, the Tet Offensive, the youngest person, items left at The Wall, the Three Servicemen Statue, the Women’s Memorial, and many more.
In 2018, the Department of the Interior rejected all proposed methods for donor recognition within the Education Center, although VVMF subsequently submitted an updated plan for consideration.
An updated version of the phone app is expected in October 2018, which is expected to allow visitors to point their phone at any one of the 58,000+ names on The Wall and have it open a page about that person. An online Education Center is in development and expected early in 2019.
About the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) is the nonprofit organization that founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, D.C. in 1982. VVMF continues to lead the way in paying tribute to our nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families. VVMF’s mission is to honor and preserve the legacy of service in America and educate all generations about the impact of the Vietnam War and era. To learn more about VVMF, visit www.vvmf.org or call 202-393-0090.
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