Deputy Director, Northwest African American Museum
- Master’s degree in museology, University of Washington
- Bachelor’s degree in American History, Stanford University
- Research assistant at Martin Luther King Papers Project, Stanford University
- Litigation paralegal at Routh Crabtree Olsen, P.S. in Bellevue
- Intern at Henry Art Gallery and Northwest African American Museum in Seattle
- Curriculum consultant at Washington State History Museum in Tacoma
- Collections management consultant for the Jacob and Gwen Lawrence Foundation in Seattle
- Deputy director/education director at Northwest African American Museum
Brian helped to open the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, and has held leadership roles ever since, first as the education director and now as deputy director. He manages the museum’s many offerings, including exhibitions, public events, and educational initiatives.
One of Seattle’s newest museums, NAAM opened in 2008 after more than 20 years of planning. Its mission is to present and preserve the connections between the Pacific Northwest and people of African descent.
“I work with a truly great and dedicated staff that makes all of this happen, and this institution is lucky to have them,” Brian said.
Brian, a Yakima, Wash. native, has always loved museums, but he couldn’t help but think that something important was missing in this corner of the country.
“Living in the Northwest, I was acutely aware that local museums did not accurately reflect the stories of my African American culture on a consistent mindful basis,” Brian said. “My goal in selecting the UW Museology master's program was to put myself in a position where I could help start a museum in the Northwest that would correct this problem.”
The UW’s advantage
After a short stint at University of San Diego Law School, Brian realized he was not so interested in accessing the museum field from a legal perspective. He decided the UW’s Museology program was the right way to gain the real-world experience and educational credential that he needed to start a meaningful museum career.
“My graduate degree effectively pulled back the curtain on the museum field, demystifying the mystique that often separates these institutions from the people they attempt to serve,” Brian said. “It also gave me confidence in my own abilities and an appreciation for the type and level of impact I could make as a young professional.”
In fact, four of Brian’s colleagues at NAAM also hold or are currently pursuing UW graduate degrees in various disciplines.
Graduate school focus
While attending school, Brian interned with NAAM and the Henry Art Gallery and juggled a full-time litigation paralegal job. His thesis project focused on the NAAM’s grant strategies and approaches. “I like to think it has benefited the museum’s development staff and their fundraising efforts,” he said.
“Helping to open and sustain a new museum, in the midst of down economy, has proven to be a truly great life adventure,” Brian said. “Building from the ground up has taught me some invaluable lessons and given me the chance to inject myself into all aspects of the Museum's operations. I could not have asked for a better entry into the museum field. It has been quite a ride.”
One of Brian’s favorite projects at the museum was curating a recent exhibition called “Checking Our Pulse: Health and Healers in the African American Community.” A partnership between the museum and Swedish Medical Center, this exhibit celebrated the personal stories of this region’s African American medical professionals. It also offered an opportunity to raise awareness of universal health issues that disproportionately affect the black community.
“We called visitors to action, connecting them with preventive care options, serve providers, information, resources and immediate health raising opportunities,” Brian said. “This exhibition also had a number of wonderful public programs that brought community members in for health screenings (mammograms, cholesterol, HIV/AIDS) and provided a safe space to probe the realities of critical health issues impacting our entire community.”
Advice for prospective graduate students
“Spend some time shadowing someone working what you would consider a 'dream job' in your field. Make sure that the day-to-day realities match your dreams and aspirations. Graduate school is a significant commitment of your time and resources, be sure you are making the right choice. Once you have made that determination, enjoy the ride.”
Photo by Elizabeth Lowry