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President of the National Civil Rights Museum
Episode 65
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President of the National Civil Rights Museum

CI to Eye with Terri Lee Freeman

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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IN THIS EPISODE

Terri and Erik dive into the history of the National Civil Rights Museum, how it aims to carry on the legacy of Dr. King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, and the museum's role in helping people connect the past to the present. They also discuss the need to be "apologetically human" by owning up to our mistakes and adopting a growth mindset.

Erik Gensler: Terri, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

Terri Freeman: Sure. Thank you for inviting me.

Erik Gensler: I’ve told you this once before, but attending your museum was so incredibly moving and meaningful to me and really helped me rethink how I understood American history and it’s really one of the most moving museum experiences I’ve ever had and I am so thankful that we get to talk about it and share with our listeners and I hope they have the experience in the future, at some point.

Terri Freeman: We like to ensure that people understand what the true history of people that were brought over to this country and what they endured over the course of time and I think it is through that historic lens that people can better understand some of what’s going on in society today, as well as how to, frankly, enhance their interactions with other people regardless of race, creed, or color.

Erik Gensler: I think the thing that was really striking to me was starting the experience with the boats where-

Terri Freeman: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Erik Gensler: … imprisoned people were taken over, chained-

Terri Freeman: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Erik Gensler: … and with the audio of the whips and you saw the conditions that the people were transported in and then reading about how it wasn’t just the south of America that benefited from this, but the entire country, particularly New York City, and how so much of the United States was built on the backs of slavery. And that’s never something that was taught in an American history textbook, at least none that I ever read.

Terri Freeman: Exactly. I’m not even sure if yet today it is being taught in textbooks. So, it’s important to be able to have these types of experiences for young people, for adults, and for those people who, frankly, lived through some of, in particular, the Civil Rights Era, it reminds them of what they’ve been through, but it helps them kind of move forward from it, is what we have found. There is always a reaction to the experience. Everybody’s reaction is different.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’d love, for the people who haven’t got to experience the museum, if you can walk through the layout of the museum, perhaps talk about its historic location and how visitors flow through.

Terri Freeman: Sure. So the museum is actually at the historic Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine motel was a thriving Black-owned business in the middle-20th century, owned by a couple, Loree and Walter Bailey. And it really was a place that was a safe haven for African Americans as they traveled through Memphis, Tennessee. It was the segregated South and so, African Americans could not just stay anywhere. This was one of the places that they could stay and, in fact, it was a listing in the Green Book, which was a tool that African Americans had at their disposal to tell them what places were safe for them to stay, where to eat, where entertainment was that would be friendly and welcoming to them. What the Lorraine was most noted for unfortunately was the tragic assassination of Dr. King. Most people are familiar with the photograph, where you see Dr. King is laying on the balcony and you see Ralph Abernathy and Andy Young and Jesse Jackson pointing across the way to where the purported shot came from. So, this museum did not want to be simply a Memorial to the assassination site, but it wanted to tell the story of why King’s being in Memphis was so important and that was a story of the Civil Rights Movement. The museum was actually opened in 1991. It underwent a major renovation in the spring of 2014. At that point it was decided that it was good to tell the Civil Rights story, but you had to lead up to the Civil Rights story. So, they added a gallery that talks about this movement of resistance, which actually began as soon as Africans stepped foot in this country and that is the first exhibit that people see when they come to the National Civil Rights Museum. So, you walk into what appears to be the historic Lorraine Motel and it is, but the museum is built with … kind of behind the facade, if you will, the front of the hotel. And we have 23 exhibits that walk you through a historic timeline of the different phases and stages of Africans, initially, African Americans trying to get the same citizenship rights that their counterpart citizens had in this country. So, you start off in a gallery around the issue of slavery and how it benefited the nation and how it did not at all benefit African Americans. We talk about the different regions of the country and how they actually benefited. Then, you go into a film that really talks about the period of reconstruction after the emancipation of slaves in 1863 and we talk about reconstruction, what happened during that timeframe. And then, we talk about Jim Crow Laws that were initiated and then you leave the theater, go into the next series of exhibits which talk about Jim Crow, how even in a society that was determined to insist that we were less than, African Americans thrive by creating a community within this kind of segregated and second-class-citizen landscape. We talk about Brown v. the Board of Education, the impact that that had, and then we go on to many of the campaigns that are most associated with the Civil Rights Movement: the Montgomery bus boycott, which is when King first came on the scene at the age of 26; we go through the sit-ins; the freedom rides; the death of Emmett Till; the Albany movement; Birmingham Jail; March on Washington; Freedom Summer and the voting rights efforts that took place in Mississippi, in particular; we talk about Selma; and then we get into Black power, Black pride, which was also a newer edition because it’s hard to tell the story of the fight for progress and freedom without including the exchanges and the tension, frankly, that was going on by the time you got to the middle ‘60s with younger people and those people who were now considered older, which is King and his counterparts. And so, we talked about Black power, Black pride. We talk about the Black Panther party. We tell people the true story of the Black Panther party, which was a story of protecting their community, but it was not about violence, and then we get into a discussion of the impact that the Civil Rights Movement was having on a variety of other related movements: women’s rights, gay rights, the farmers’ rights and what was happening globally in the world at that period of time, the resistance against Vietnam and what have you. And then you move into the Memphis sanitation strike, which is what brought King to Memphis in the first place, the Mason Temple speech, which is the “mountaintop” speech. And then, we end with a people actually being able to see the rooms, a replica of what they looked like. They are the actual hotel rooms, but they are set up to be a replica of what they looked like when King stayed in those rooms and people see the balcony. They don’t go on the balcony, but you can see the balcony from the area where the rooms are. And then we end the experience in the Lorraine by letting people know that there are still these issues that are looming, like sex trafficking, like issues around immigrants, like the digital divide that occurs and how we have to work hard to ensure that progress and freedom continues to move forward. And I think that couldn’t be more timely than right now, given kind of the state of our union, when we seem to be almost more divided than ever.

Erik Gensler: Definitely. Thank you for that amazing summary and I think what was so moving was when you were looking at the lunch counter sit-ins, there were full-on replicas of lunch counters or with the Freedom Rides, there was a full size bus in the museum. It’s like it takes you there and it’s really, really incredible. I love that I how interactive it is. And I felt like I was maybe there for three hours and I could have easily spent at least twice that much time digging in because it’s so rich and it’s so full and it’s so illustrative and there’s so much amazing detail. And of course, it’s a museum, so its power is in looking back but of course it makes you think about where we are now and you touched on that. Of course Civil Rights is still one of the most important issues our country is struggling with, I would say. And I’m curious your point of view on how the museum responds to current events, which it’s, you know … you seem to take an active part in doing, like your Unpacking Racism for Action Dialogue Series and many institutions are afraid almost of taking too much of a stand for fear of being political. And so, I’m curious how you think about all of this.

Terri Freeman: Well, we consider ourselves to be apolitical. We don’t necessarily take a political stance. That said, I think we would lose credibility if we didn’t speak out on issues that King and those who are represented in this museum spoke out on. So, as we continue to look at these issues around immigration, when the issue first presented itself of children being separated from parents and being held in the equivalent to chain-link cages, we actually created an exhibit that had the chain link size replica, along with pictures and photographs taken by photographer Paola Mendoza on the steps of the immigration office in New York with signs that said, “I am a child,” and it was a play on the “I am a man” signs that were held in ‘68 by the sanitation workers here in Memphis and that particular exhibit also included the Declaration of Human Rights in both English and strongish, so people could see the faces of these children, better understand what we were talking about when we said that they were living in cages, and then know what the Declaration of Human Rights says that each of us are privy to as human beings. So, that was a rapid response, if you will, to an issue that is current. We have a lot of different speakers that come to the museum. In fact, later in October I believe it is, we’re going to have Ibram X. Kendi, who has just released a new book called How to Be an Anti-Racist. That’s not political; that is about facing what is facing a lot of people who are in society today and if we want to say that we want to help and not hurt, we have to better understand some of these issues. And I think, in many ways, we became very complacent when we thought things looked as though everything was okay (laughs) and that everyone was getting along, but everyone wasn’t. And unfortunately, race is a topic that our country has struggled with talking about since race became an issue and it became an issue because people were stolen from a country and brought to the shores of this country and put into servitude and thought to be less than. So, we try to bring people into the museum that are talking about things that are contemporary but have a relationship to the history that is represented on the walls of the museum. And, again, it’s not political. Now, if you take it to be political, that’s on the individual sitting in the room but we’re not talking about Democratic positions, Republican positions. We’re really talking about human positions from the perspective of the museum.

Erik Gensler: Can you talk a little bit about your Unpacking Racism for Action series?

Terri Freeman: Sure. We started it a couple of years ago. In fact, we’re getting ready to launch the third cohort, I believe, next month in October. And what it is is, it’s a dialogue series. We do it on a cohort-based kind of model. We have people apply. We choose around 35 people to be a part of the group and they make the commitment to go through this series of dialogue sessions, which occur monthly for seven months, two hours every month, and they really are focused on going deep on the topic of implicit bias and, to some degree, structural racism. And it really focuses on the individual. I have a belief that for us to get to where we need to get to, individuals do have to recognize, okay, this is my perspective and this is where I’m coming from because all systems, frankly, are made up of individuals. All systems can be changed by individuals and what we have now are systems that are so grounded in what, I guess, at some point was seem to be acceptable, but as you start to dissect it, you realize that under all of these systems there’s a racial impact. So, if you take the criminal justice system and you look at, I remind people that King never talked about criminal justice because it wasn’t an issue in the mid-20th century. The white people and the numbers of Black people who were incarcerated was just about the same. In fact, there may have been more white people incarcerated at that time. It wasn’t until we decided we were going to have a war on drugs that you started to see a spike in incarceration levels and then you started seeing private prisons built and if you got a private prison, well, you need to keep it full (laughs). And so, how do you keep it full? You figure out a way to get bodies into those systems and so the systems in and of themselves become unjust and you can see that a lot of it cuts on racial lines, but to be able to begin to dismantle some of that, we have to know the position we sit in. So, Unpacking Racism for Action really is focusing on where the individual sitting in the room is, understanding their biases, trying to then flip the switch on those biases, and then using those individuals as megaphones, if you will, for other people who they come into contact with. I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was talking with a woman at an event and we got into talking about unpacking racism—and this happened to be a white woman—and she said to me, she said, “Well, I want to know how I can help,” and I said to her, “Well, you are invited into rooms that I’m not invited into. If you have the ability to nip something in the bud when it starts to go sideways, that would be very for you to speak up.” And so, I think we have to recognize that there is a certain level of access that some people have that others, other people do not have and that being an ally is one thing, but being an accomplice is quite another. And so, what we’re looking for are people to become accomplices and actually saying … calling what is wrong, “wrong,” and stating what the truth and the fact is. And Unpacking Racism really helps people get to that truth and those facts.

Erik Gensler: Yes. And to see where the systematic racism surrounds almost every system in this country.

Terri Freeman: Exactly. I mean, our consultant really uses data and articles and videos that are pretty explicit in showing how people respond when they see a Black man doing something versus how they respond when they see a white woman doing the same thing. And that brings out our own personal biases. The action is not different. It’s how we view the action. And so, that’s what Unpacking Racism is focused on.

Erik Gensler: So, in doing research for this, I understand that throughout its history, only African-American women have run the museum, which I think is amazing.

Terri Freeman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erik Gensler: And you’re the third person to take over the reins?

Terri Freeman: I am. I am the third President. The first person actually worked with the founders of the museum and she went on to run the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan. And then there was my predecessor, Ms. Beverly Robertson, who now runs the Chamber here in Memphis, ran the museum for seventeen years. So, she really built the museum and went through that renovation in 2014, at which time I took over the reins of the museum, have been here since the fall of 2014. I think that my predecessor really focused on making sure that the story that is told in the museum is an accurate story and engaged a lot of scholars and insuring that the information that people view in the museum, read in the museum, experience in the museum is factual. What I have tried to do since being here is to, obviously, continue to push forward the facts, but also say, “I want us to relate that history to what’s going on today and focus very much on expanding the programming that the museum provides as well as beginning to work more intensely on providing resources for instructional leaders, teachers and students.”

Erik Gensler: To turn the topic a little bit towards more about you and your leadership philosophy, I really enjoyed your TED Talk that you called “Apologetically Human,” and it touches on so many of the themes that I talk quite a bit about on this podcast and here with my team at Capacity. I’d love for you to explain a bit what the talk is about and why you chose that topic.

Terri Freeman: Sure. Well, I think it is fashionable for people to be very focused on their specific person, right? We have our groups, if you will: our women’s groups, we have our Black women’s groups, we have LGBTQ groups, we have all of these special groups that we’re a part of and everybody is a part of a variety of them. But all of us, collectively, are a part of this group called the human race, right? And as I was thinking about what I wanted to talk about, it would have been easy for me to, kind of, talk about, you know, the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and the things that King did and the various campaigns and the words of wisdom that he left with us, as did many others during the Movement, but we all need to recognize that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes every day. We make mistakes. Every day, we do things that we probably wish, “Gee, I should have done it a little differently,” and to be a little bit more vulnerable and a little bit more understanding in the fact that as humans, we have the ability to fall down, but we also have the ability to get back up. Our primary motive should not be to get people down and to keep people down; our primary motive should be to help people get back up and understand that as we are humans, we have similarities, but we have differences, and that’s okay. Everybody’s not gonna think the same, but if we have the ability to open our minds, be willing to listen, be willing to at least be open to another perspective, I think that we, frankly, could move a lot farther today than we are. I think most recently I’ve heard more and more people talking about this idea. In fact, I actually just heard Chris Christie talking about this idea ofm we really need to be able to be more bipartisanm listening to people. Well, duh. That’s kind of a-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Terri Freeman: … reactionary kind of response. But I guess my point is, if we’re only talking to ourselves—and frankly, social media really does make it easy for us to simply talk to ourselves—we’re not learn anything. We’re not going to expand our thinking. Doesn’t mean that you have to agree. I don’t agree with a lot of stuff that other people have to say, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always going to shut down on people as soon as I realize that they’re headed in a different direction. So, when I came up with “Apologetically Human,” it was to say, “As a human being, I have to be willing to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ sometimes because I know that I’m going to make a mistake and making a mistake shouldn’t be fatal.” I guess the terminology that we’re using now is talking about “canceling” people, right? And because someone does a thing, we shouldn’t immediately “cancel” them until we really find out, “What’s this motivation and what’s behind this?” to see is this a mistake or is this frankly someone’s character. And then, I guess the question that I would pose is, “Can we never change our character?” I think we should be always working to be that better human. And that is something that comes over time. I’m a different person today than I was twenty years ago. I don’t know that I’m a better person, but I know that I’m a different person and I can only be the human that is striving to be the best that I can be. And that was really where that TED Talk was coming from.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love that. And physically we’re not even the same humans. Our cells die off and reproduce and we’re physically different people. We can be emotionally and spiritually different people and I think that’s so fundamentally important and the perfectionism is not even a human characteristic. Like-

Terri Freeman: Exactly.

Erik Gensler: … machines can be perfect, but humans can’t be perfect and if you start from accepting that humans make mistakes, well, boy, it’s a lot easier to live with other people and, frankly, live with yourself.

Terri Freeman: Exactly.

Erik Gensler: I’m curious, how does that spirit make its way into the culture at the museum, through your leadership?

Terri Freeman: Well, I think one is that I would certainly like to say that we have a culture of continual learning here at the museum. So, we recognize that everybody who works at the museum is not a historian. Understanding these things that we display in the museum is at different levels for different people. And so, what we want to do is make sure that we are giving people the opportunity to continually learn about these things. So, when we bring in new exhibits to the museum, we have time for the staff to have the opportunity to go a little deeper and become more familiar with those exhibits. We also provide opportunities for people to visit other museums, to learn how our museum relates to other museums. But I think the other thing that I would say is that we are open to a variety of perspectives. We understand that not everybody who works at the National Civil Rights Museum is necessarily of the same political persuasion. There are issues that some people are more closely affected by than others and we’re open to that. We just had someone ask that, in fact, we consider who our catering vendors are based on the perspectives that those particular vendors may have and we think that anything that potentially makes an employee uncomfortable is something that we have to take a look at, because we really want people to feel comfortable in this working environment. I will also say, though, that we have people, particularly our tour guides who are often going on tours with groups of people who have all sorts of things that they’re bringing with them when they come into the museum, maybe preconceived notions about what the museum is or is not or, certainly, preconceived notions of what the “real story” is—and I’m using air quotes when I say “real”—is to be patient and correct in kindness, but also we tell our tour guides to make sure that they understand limits because it’s not okay for people to say, “Can I touch your hair?” “No, you can’t touch my hair.” (laughs) It’s not okay for people to use derogatory language under the guise of, “Well, we’re in this museum and that was the language of the time.” No. So, we have to know the limits, but we also have to be … as I say, we correct with kindness and hopefully help people understand what it felt like and, frankly, what it feels like when a distinction is made between two human beings based solely on their race. And I think that’s how I kind of bring in that whole idea of apologetically human. Understanding, no, we might not always get it right, but we have to have the humility to be able to say, “I’m sorry. It was not my intention to offend and how can I get this right the next time?”

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. You’re coming to Boot Camp to participate on a panel around organizational change and I’m curious, what are some of the toughest changes you’ve had to navigate within your organization?

Terri Freeman: Hmm. Well, I would say, it’s probably that the museum cannot simply be a place that houses history and relics and artifacts that you look at and read about. It must be a living, breathing institution that continues to challenge those issues or those individuals that push against equality and freedom and justice. And what I have found is, it is very easy for people to look back on history and say, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe we did that, and how awful that was,” but then, they can’t make the transition from the past to the present. So, people who will say, “Yes, I understand they had to march at Selma and I can’t believe the response that the police had to those people who were just marching for voting rights,” and then they look at a march that is organized by Black Lives Matter and they’re critical and they talk about how disruptive it is or how inconvenient it is or how dangerous these people are, well, it’s just a different time. It’s the same language that was used when they were walking across the bridge in Selma. The difference … well, I guess maybe there wasn’t a lot of difference. If we look at Ferguson, there was tear gas used, there was … there were clubs used, there were dogs on the scene. But for some reason you can say what King and his followers did in 1965 was the right thing to do, yet when young African Americans and young white allies and young Latinos march together against the brutality against Black men, for some reason, we can’t understand why that is a necessary action. I received a call from a visitor who talked about how wonderful their experience was until they got into the gift shop and they saw a T-shirt that said, “Black lives matter,” and that that has no place in the museum. And that, for me, illustrated exactly what I have said.

Erik Gensler: Mm. Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Terri Freeman: How you could walk through this museum, see what you saw, and then see a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and say, “Oh well that’s extremist,”but what we just … what you just walked through in 23 exhibits wasn’t? And so, that, for me, I think has been the biggest … I won’t say obstacle, but it is truly … it is a challenge to push against that attitude. I think that will continue to be … it’s always easier to look back and see through rose-colored glasses as opposed to deal with what’s facing you, frankly, sometimes facing us in the mirror.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, cause it doesn’t threaten that person’s power to look at it historically, but now, and you have to understand structural racism to understand why it’s important to say, “Black lives matter,” not, “All lives matter,” but, “Black lives matter,” because structural racism says they do not.

Terri Freeman: Right, exactly.

Erik Gensler: So (laughs), yeah, that’s a very challenging line for you to have to balance as representing the museum, yeah. Where you’re trying to put it out there to the … And the hope is someone comes through that experience and is able to recognize not only the historical impact of that, but what’s going on now and see that as the foundation for what’s going on now and then become allies and I can only imagine how frustrating that must be to hear.

Terri Freeman: Well, you know, I think one of the things that we always ask ourselves is, “What do we want people to do when they leave the museum?” and it’s hard to quantify it, but what I really want people to do is I want them to think. I want them to think about what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, and then I want to them to think about what is their reality, what their circle looks like. I want them to think about reaching out to someone who is classified as the “other” and seeing how you can bridge differences that, frankly, there might not even be that many. And so, I would encourage people to leave this place and figure out, “How could I make a difference by reaching out and getting to know somebody who’s a little different than me?” It sounds like a small thing. It really does. I know … I get a lot of pushback on this, that it’s not enough, but just think about it. If everybody decided, “I’m gonna make it a point to better understand somebody who’s different from me,” how much better we be overall in society? If we could just be begin to try to understand someone who is a little different.

Erik Gensler: Totally. What is the most meaningful part of the museum to you?

Terri Freeman: Well, I think what the museum stands for, we’ve had a woman who sits outside of the museum across the street, kind of caddy-corner to the entrance of the museum, who has been on that corner, kind of protesting the museum’s existence since the museum came up out of the ground. And her perspective is that for the money that was invested—now, understand this was private dollars that that created this museum and to support this museum—but for the money that was invested in creating this museum, it would have been better spent serving a disadvantaged population and that, in fact, that’s what Dr. King would have wanted. And she has every right to have that opinion, because we have freedom of opinion, freedom of thought, freedom of speech in this country, but she can do that because of what the people in the museum who are chronicled on the walls did throughout history. And she, for me, is kind of the embodiment of what we say this museum stands for, which is an individual’s ability to protest, an individual’s ability to take a stand and to be disobedient in a civil manner that is not at all inciting violence, but it is pressing forward a perspective and I think, for me, what the museum stands for, just that, this idea of, kind of, patience, persistence, tenacity, a belief, and what the people who are chronicled in the museum represent overall. That is the most meaningful thing in this museum because it’s a reminder that everyone, King included, who is represented in this museum was just an ordinary human being. They had no special powers. They had no special talents. They had nothing more than you and I have. What they did have was a goal and they decided that collectively, they were stronger than individually, and that collectively, they would push forward to reach that goal. That is the meaning of this museum and I think that it reminds me every day, if there is something that we want to accomplish, we can accomplish it. We’ve got so many more resources today than they had in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. If they could accomplish what they accomplished in a relatively short period of time, we certainly can push forward and accomplish the things that we need to accomplish today. So, it is truly just the meaning of this place and what it stands for that I’m almost in awe of every day.

Erik Gensler: That’s amazing. What’s something that you’re really good at and something that you’re working on-

Terri Freeman: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: … as a professional or it could be personal. I think they’re, perhaps, often inter-related (laughs).

Terri Freeman: Well, how about we talk about what I need to work on? Let’s start there. I think that I am always (laughs) working to live up to what I say is the right thing. So, I can’t say that it’s easy for me to sit in a room full of people who can’t understand what structural racism is. It’s not easy. It’s frustrating. I would like to have more patience and be able to work through how I personally feel when someone kinda tells me that my truth isn’t a truth. (laughs) So, that’s hard. I will tell you, I’m really challenged when I find myself to be the only person of color in a room in 2019 or the only woman. To me, there’s no excuse for that. So, that’s very, very difficult for me. But I think I’m pretty good at listening to people, just in general. And I also think I have the ability to sometimes say things in a way that can be heard by people who have a little different perspective than me. I try not to be too adversarial, but to try to really help people get it in a language that they can understand. Now, this is coming from me saying that I’m good at that, but I think that would probably sum it up.

Erik Gensler: I love that. I think that’s great. And also, that’s what you said your tour guides are taught to do, right? Like, what is the language you use about confrontation?

Terri Freeman: Right, we want them to actually be able to gently help people move through those things. We don’t want to be confrontational to people, but what we want to do is make sure that people understand what is the truth.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, correct in kindness.

Terri Freeman: Yes, yes. That’s what we always do.

Erik Gensler: That’s great. It’s hard to do.

Terri Freeman: Yeah, it, is. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Yeah, you have to be really, really thoughtful. Well, we’ve come to your last question, which we call your “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses?

Terri Freeman: Mmm. Well, I think what I would say is, folks, it’s 2019. Our audiences are different today than they were twenty years ago, than they were 40 years ago, then they were 60 years ago. The methods by which people get information is very different today than it was. We have to make sure that we are giving people an experience that is relatable to them. There was a time when museums were copy-heavy. It was all about artifacts and writing, things that you had to read about. You have to put in audio. You have to present things in video. You have to have opportunities for people to be interactive in your space. You have to figure out how you use social media in your space and encourage people, frankly, to help you brand your space through their own personal social media. No longer do we have the luxury of only pushing out information. Now, we receive information back from our publics about how we truly are doing our work and we have to be open to receiving that. So, I think the big lesson to me, people don’t necessarily want to feel like they are walking back in time; they want to better understand what happened from a historical perspective, but they want to be able to apply that learning through what they’re used to in 2019. And I find particularly, there are some institutions that still present things in a manner that is looking for an audience that is 50 and above and I think what we have to recognize is that those audiences will be dissipating and that we’ve got to start cultivating folks while they’re in their twenties or even younger to understand and enjoy the content that we’re providing through our arts and culture experiences, as well as cultivating them to be givers to these institutions.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I think that’s so well put and I thank you so much for your time.

Terri Freeman: Sure. Thank you for inviting me.


About Our Guests
Terri Lee Freeman
Terri Lee Freeman
President, National Civil Rights Museum

Terri Lee Freeman is the president of the National Civil Rights Museum. She is responsible for providing strategic leadership in furthering the museum’s mission as an educational and cultural institution. She has also emphasized the connection between the historic civil rights era and today’s contemporary issues.

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Transformational Leadership
EP 125
Apr 02, 2024
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Transformational Leadership

Holding the artistic reins of an organization is no easy feat—especially when that organization has been around for generations and has a deep-rooted legacy. As a leader, how do you honor the rich history of your institution while effectively steering it into the future?

As New York City Ballet celebrates its 75th anniversary season, Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford reflects on the Company’s continued evolution, how they’ve adapted to this new digital era, and the unique challenges of leading such a storied cultural entity.

Words of Inspiration To Power 2024
EP 121
Jan 30, 2024
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Words of Inspiration To Power 2024

In 2023, we spoke with remarkable thought leaders both within and beyond the realm of the arts. They all answered the same question: “If you could broadcast one message to executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and boards of thousands of arts organizations, what would it be?”

We call this their “CI to Eye moment,” and in this special episode, Dan revisits these key insights to offer encouragement and perspective for the year ahead.

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