Levine Museum of the New South’s new CEO Kathryn Hill looks for the museum to play an important role in building community in Charlotte.
Barely four weeks into her new role as president and CEO of the Levine Museum of the New South, Kathryn Hill faced a dramatic challenge and test of the museum’s core social mission—building community though history.
The CMPD shooting of a young black man, Keith Lamont Scott, in September brought civic unrest and national attention to Charlotte. Protests and disturbances set the city on edge and were particularly intense Uptown—just blocks from the museum, located at 200 E. 7th St.
“We absolutely needed to respond,” Hill says. “We recognized our unique position to advocate using history to understand where we are as a way to find healing through understanding and to help (the community) understand where we ought to be going.
“The incident happened on a Tuesday. The protests erupted on Wednesday. We opened on Thursday, and on Saturday held a free day, leading special tours and discussion looking at issues such as urban renewal and the desegregation and re-segregation of Charlotte schools as a way to help explain the distrust in the community that led to these events.”
Hill arranged for a town hall forum led by staff historian Brenda Tindal to host more than 120 participants in passionate and genuine conversation surrounding the events.
“Knowing the historical context helps us understand the consequences of our actions,” Hill says. “What is encouraging is civic leaders, cultural leaders, educators, and business leaders are coming together to say ‘What should we be doing to build diverse communities, to foster social mobility?’ The museum can play a role in these discussions.”
Hill continues, “My goal is to insinuate history into every one of those conversations. We can’t go down this road unless we understand what is leading us here and what that means for the communities we are trying to reach.”
K(no)w Justice, K(no)w Peace
The museum expedited the opening of its K(no)w Justice, K(no)w Peace exhibition to December, more than a year ahead of schedule, in order to continue important discussions in the aftermath of the unrest this fall. The exhibition explores police involved shootings across the U.S. and looks at different perspectives, promoting empathy and understanding of the narratives often lost in the mainstream media.
“Part of Kathryn’s DNA is the belief that history can be a lens to view many difficult issues facing the community,” says Liz Simmons, board chair of the Levine Museum of the New South. “She knows how the lessons of the past can serve as a catalyst in fostering meaningful discussion and action.”
Hill brings an accomplished background of museum operations to her new role. She served as chief operations officer at Denver’s History Colorado, helped open Washington D.C.’s United States National Holocaust Museum, and began her 30-year museum career at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.
Hill sees the museum as a community connector and looks to build upon relationships with other cultural institutions, academic centers, community partners, and neighborhood associations in facilitating discussion and advocating for the entire community.
She points to museum outreach programming like the annual Gospel Shout concert hosted at the United House of Prayer for All People and the Front Porch Project, a pop-up exhibit about living in the Nuevo South brought to festivals and area schools, as ways of extending the museum’s reach beyond Uptown.
“We need to be a place for everyone’s story and we can’t tell stories of people we don’t know,” Hill says. “People won’t trust us to tell their stories if we are not in their communities and if we are not celebrating them. This takes time and commitment and showing up.”
Photo by Justin Driscoll.