If Hobby Lobby President Steve Green has his way, Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., will bring the Good Book back to the masses. Green acknowledges the Bible is arguably the most misunderstood book of all time, and as such he’s poured years—not to mention a fortune—into collecting thousands of biblical artifacts to make the upcoming venue a mecca for faith-based and secular audiences. Green admits he’s spent far more time recently on his role as the museum’s chairman than his executive position at Hobby Lobby, a popular arts and crafts chain built around religious principles. Talk to Green for a few moments and it becomes clear the museum, set to open in November, is his passion project.
What was the genesis of Museum of the Bible?
My family and I were asked if we would help acquire a facility for a Bible museum in Dallas. I said if the right deal came up, we would consider it. That’s when we started our collection. We had no idea we would be able to collect as much as we did as fast as we did—the economy at the time played into our hands. As our collection grew, we felt a sense of responsibility we needed to be alongside it and help this idea become reality. That’s when we opened [potential locations] up to more than just Dallas.
Where did Washington come in?
When I looked at the top 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S.—thinking it needed to be in one of the largest metros—the other two cities [besides Dallas] that stood out to me were New York City and Washington, D.C. We started looking at all three cities. After that, we did a survey [of potential attendees] asking if we built it, would they come? The response was overwhelming: There was an interest in a Bible museum, and it would be best attended in Washington, D.C. About 18 months later, the building we were interested in came on the market, and we acquired it in 2012.
D.C. is known as a hub for politics, not religion. Did that raise concern?
I don’t think it’s a matter of spirituality; it’s a matter of where museumgoers are. D.C. is the heart of museums in our country with the Smithsonian network. [Hobby Lobby] is in the retail business, and we find we do best when we are [near] similar retail. Most commonly, people know about restaurant row. All the restaurants congregate because they do best when they are [located near] other restaurants. It made sense to put Museum of the Bible here because the first city museumgoers visit is Washington, D.C.
Doesn’t that mean competition?
Exactly. And not only that, the Smithsonian museums don’t charge. We’ll be looking at charging. We have to have great content and make it worth a visitor’s while to go there. Other successful pay museums are the International Spy Museum and Newseum. While we can feed off museumgoers going there, we have also found that many who say they’ve been to D.C. and had no interest in going back will go because of the museum.
How big is your collection now?
We have roughly 44,000 items. We’re not collecting at the pace we were originally because when we started, we had nothing. We would buy everything coming down the pike, from a single item at auction at Sotheby’s or Christie’s to a collector selling us his entire 10,000-item collection because of the economy and because he loved what we were doing. We’re more selective now. We’re developing relationships with other museums, libraries and collectors, and it’s not necessary for us to own the items. I think there will be opportunities for libraries and collections to loan us items, and we are happy to do that.