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Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director Philip G. Emerson Honored for Vision, Leadership in Shaping World-Class History Museums

Third Leader in Agency’s 62-Year History to Retire December 31

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., December 9, 2019 – Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director Philip G. Emerson was recently honored for 33 years of leadership in shaping Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown into world-class museums and a leader in education. Emerson, who will retire at the end of December, is the third executive director in the agency’s 62-year history.

Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director Philip G. Emerson with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on May 4, 2007, during Americas 400th Anniversary events at Jamestown Settlement. Photo credit: Jim Young/Reuters/pool

The Board of Trustees, which oversees the nationally accredited state agency, issued at its November meeting a special resolution to Emerson, bestowing him with the honorary title of “Executive Director Emeritus” and naming the Central Support Complex after him in his honor.

In May 1991, Emerson, a native of Luray, Va., and graduate of Randolph Macon College, was named executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, after serving for a year as interim executive director and following a nationwide search. He joined the Foundation in May 1986 as the director of public affairs and marketing, following marketing roles at The Mariners’ Museum, Virginia Tourism Council and Luray Caverns Corp.

During his executive directorship, the Foundation implemented national educational programs and outreach to schools across the Commonwealth, developed a prestigious collection of artifacts, and nearly doubled visitation to the two museums. He guided the Foundation as the lead state agency to oversee Virginia’s role in the America’s 400th Anniversary commemoration in 2007 to observe the founding of Jamestown as America’s first permanent English settlement, and more recently, the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, to observe the 400th anniversary of landmark events in Virginia and America’s history that occurred in 1619. Under his leadership, the Foundation invested more than $160 million in museum facilities and exhibits to reach national audiences to engage them in the story of America’s beginnings, while supporting economic and tourism growth in the Greater Williamsburg area.

Emerson, as the agency liaison to state government, has worked with members of the Virginia General Assembly and nine Virginia governors. He has served as a national and international ambassador of the museums and the Commonwealth, welcoming four U.S. Presidents, from William J. Clinton to Donald J. Trump, as well as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, among others.

Since its initial accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums in 1987, Emerson guided the Foundation through two meticulous re-accreditation reviews, confirming the integrity of the agency’s museums as meeting the national standards and best practices, making it possible to acquire loans of significant historical objects from across the globe. In 2007, Jamestown Settlement presented “The World of 1607,” an international exhibit with artifacts loaned from 25 countries including Russia and China, including an original copy of the Magna Carta. Today, Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown boast special exhibitions with loaned artifacts from institutions such as The National Archives, U.K., and the U.S. Library of Congress.

He oversaw the Foundation’s dramatic evolution of a minor collection of artifacts to a respected collection of more than 1,500 significant, non-archaeological historical objects and more than 210,000 archaeological items. Among them are a 1605 oil-on-panel portrait of Thomas West, third Baron de La Warr, whose timely arrival at Jamestown saved the colony from abandonment, and a rare 1776 Declaration of Independence, printed in Boston within weeks after the Declaration was adopted.

He worked with the Boards to obtain and invest more than $160 million in museum facilities and exhibits to reach national and international audiences through the development and execution of long-range plans, transforming former commemorative sites into nationally acclaimed centers of learning and engagement. These long-range plans involved two major renovations at Jamestown Settlement, renamed from Jamestown Festival Park, and construction of new re-created 17th-century vessels that comprise Virginia’s “founding fleet,” as well as two major renovations at the Yorktown Victory Center culminating in the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

As executive director, Emerson supported state and private Boards in raising more than $45 million in private resources and in growing the endowment and investment holdings by more than $24 million, and inspired and effected significant expansion and improvement of services and revenues from the agency’s concession operations. He engineered the significant and strategic expansion of agency landholdings, and devised and achieved a plan for the creation of the innovative Central Support Complex to effect new efficiencies in function-based versus site-based management for the agency.

During his tenure, the Foundation expanded the reach of education programs from approximately 49,000 students to more than 270,000 students annually, earning the distinction of being the largest provider of structured museum education programs in the Commonwealth, including significant outreach services to Virginia’s public schools, development of digital resources for educators and students, and a leader in teacher training. Emerson reinforced a visitor research program to monitor customer services and to guide facility and program expansion as well as market initiatives, during which time annual combined visitation to the agency museums increased from 371,000 in 1986 to 600,000 in 2018.

Emerson, a graduate of the Virginia Executive Institute, has been active in numerous professional and civic organizations, including serving as president of the Williamsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and president of the Randolph-Macon College Society of Alumni, from which he received both the Young Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Alumnus awards.

Emerson’s accomplishments at the Foundation for more than three decades have set the stage for the agency’s future success and stability. Following a national search for a successor this past year, the Foundation plans to announce a new executive director by the end of 2019.