Although the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) was already a major destination in the state, it faced the same major problem as many North American museums: a lack of social spaces. A museum expansion removed some of the open spaces on the VMFA campus that had been traditionally used by neighbors for informal activities. After renovations, the museum wanted to make sure that neighbors and visitors felt welcome and engaged on the grounds.Several of the VMFA's outdoor spaces, like the Belvedere and sculpture garden, were already functioning well and needed only minor work, while others needed major changes to become lively social spaces.
In the spring of 2012 Project for Public Spaces (PPS) began a collaboration with the VMFA to build a vision for transforming the museum grounds into active, vital, and well managed public spaces. Working with Museum staff, stakeholders, neighbors, and the public, PPS and the VMFA embarked on a Placemaking initiative to develop a program for the outdoor spaces of the museum that encourages community use and enjoyment.
PPS conducted focus group meetings and community Placemaking workshops attended by community members and stakeholders including museum staff and board members, neighbors, representatives of other cultural organizations, artists and art students, and more. PPS used its tested “Place Performance Evaluation Game” to help participants evaluate and suggest improvements for existing spaces, as well as come up with ideas for new ones.
Using the recommendations and ideas from the focus groups, interviews, and workshop, PPS developed an initial program of uses and a draft concept plan. The concept plan was then reviewed in a technical working session/design charrette with museum leadership and staff. Programming and design ideas were vetted and priority areas were selected for immediate improvements. PPS continued their engagement through 2013 with recommendations of specific amenities to complement the spaces, which were deployed to great success on the museum grounds in 2014.