At the close of 2020, our outgoing Program Director, Brian Cushing, took a position as the Executive Director of the Shelby County Historical Society. We wish him all the best with his endeavors, and are grateful for his many contributions to Locust Grove!
We’ll see you at the distillery, Brian!
It has been quite a journey! A decade ago, I was wrapping up my last few days of work as an accounts payable specialist having resolved to finally return to school to finish up the work I had left undone for a decade prior to that and to start my first part time position at Locust Grove as a weekend manager. A big thanks to Jennifer for giving me that first chance and being a great first boss. Eventually, I moved into taking on custodial duties when John Moses retired, did an internship, worked on contract for a while, and eventually became Program Director. I could not be prouder of what we have all achieved together over that time. I did not expect to be leaving so soon and especially not while a pandemic was in progress but, as all of us who have been deeply involved in making special events happen have learned, you have to adapt to circumstances as they arise, expected or not. When the opportunity to take on the role of Executive Director of the Shelby County Historical Society arose, a day and a half of serious deliberation left me confident that it was the clear next step on my journey.
A lot of this phase of my work with Locust Grove started with the formation of the current First Person Interpreter Corps. I could not be more amazed by them. They are a group of volunteers who not only embrace rigorous research, workshop, rehearsal, and historic clothing standards, but infuse it all with their own individual passions for different corners of the early 19th century resulting in a well rounded ensemble that could not be planned. I’ve also had the privilege over the past few years to get more involved in the management of Locust Grove’s docent corps. I have talked with people from other museums who do not believe that the quality of experience that our docents deliver to our visitors is even possible. The passion for learning and staying up to date and dedication to Locust Grove’s mission over any personal ego is what sets ours apart. If something’s not right, they are going to make it right as soon as they are made aware. Then there are the multitudes of volunteers who fill in every nook and cranny of the multitudes of jobs that need doing to get a museum through day to day and at special events. Their hard work and the skills that they bring to the table blows me away on a normal day but I cannot count how may times I came to work feeling anxious about how we were going to solve this problem or that at a special event only to find that our volunteers cheerfully filled in what I thought were gaps. So, I want to take this opportunity to say a heart felt thank you for everything you do and for giving me what has to be the best volunteer management experience in history. You are truly the best.
We have also seen our staff grow and become incredibly dynamic over these ten years; it has formed into a real A Team. We have seen our interpretation of slavery finally start to come into its own after decades of work, made cultural pass into a workable positive experience, advanced research, and generally pulled off some amazing feats that even we didn’t know were possible. Thanks to all of you- it has been an honor. Thanks especially to Carol for trusting me with these responsibilities in the first place; they have been formative.
While I worked on a variety of programs and events, the core of my job was interpretive programming and the 18th Century Market Fair was probably the largest of those. I had participated in Market Fair every year since its inception in 2004 and it was always my favorite event of the year; there’s a unique magic that happens when the season, the place, and the people all come together that way. I know the same is true for other participants, volunteers, and visitors alike so I hope I have done my part to keep it alive and to set the stage for a bright future. Bringing that many people, groups, and factors together to let the 18th Century breath again for a weekend is not without it’s challenges, and we have navigated some big ones, but I feel very good about where we are. When it’s back up and running in person, I am sure I will be filling out a participant registration form.
Most memorable moment? Had to be when it was nearly 10pm the night before the legendary full sheep barbecue during Michael Twitty’s even more legendary weeklong visit with us. He had done a presentation in the auditorium and, being nearly 10pm, only he, Amy, and I were left on site but we needed to get the marinate on the sheep. It turned out that we thought the chest cavity had been split and the sheep splayed out but it had not! So there we were in the catering kitchen, Michael with a cleaver and me on the other side while we chopped and pulled on this dead sheep while Amy stood back documenting the whole thing while getting covered in meat buts (she is a vegetarian). It worked, the sheep was marinated and barbecued, and it was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had. That’s Grove Life- you really do have to be ready for anything.
One major aspect of the past few years that I haven’t mentioned is the small farm distillery project; that’s one I can’t tear myself away from. We just have too many exciting opportunities in the pipe line and I want to see them through one way or another so, luckily, Carol agreed that we could work on a contract so I could continue to work on that project as an independent consultant. So stop by and see us- I think you will be amazed by what is around the corner!
Locust Grove is a special place with a bright future. I might be moving on career wise but not from the community. Thanks to everyone again for everything- it has been a blast!