King Manor Museum welcomes new executive director
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Aug 16, 2019 | 1354 views | 0 0 comments | 130 130 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The King Manor Museum in Jamaica has new leadership. Executive director Kelsey Brow is taking over following the departure of Nadezhda Williams.

Brow, who started as an intern at the museum nearly six years ago, moved to the city from Colorado in 2012 for a graduate program.

As a fan of historic houses, Brow stopped by a lecture event held by King Manor staff, and immediately felt a connection to the building.

“Even before sitting down for the lecture, I thought, ‘wow this place has a really good vibe,’” Brow said. “Something about it just felt really good.”

Shortly after her visit, Brow emailed the museum for potential volunteer opportunities and worked on a curatorial research exhibit project for the museum.

When a previous employee left for graduate school, Brow became a full-time employee, teaching kids, facilitating programs, and working on graphic designs.

“I felt very honored to be in that position,” Brow said. “When Nadezhda sent me an email saying she was going to leave and was happy to recommend me for her spot, I was in the middle of a museum conference I was running in Maryland and I freaked out.

“It really wasn’t where I was expecting my career to go,” Brow said. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I clearly love this place a lot. The hiring committee definitely put me through the ringer, which is good because I feel like I earned it.”

Over the years, the rooms at the King Manor have stayed the same with the exception of a few new artifacts here and there. Brown and her staff went through each room trying to figure out how to breathe new life into the spaces.

“We were looking into how to position the furniture and what artifacts we can put out and still welcome people in the rooms,” Brow said.

Michael Colon, the museum’s site manager, came up with the idea of placing a map from 1820 into the hands of the Rufus King statue. It was the year King gave his famous anti-slavery speech, and the map shows him looking over the free and slave states at that time.

“It’s really dynamic, and I’m excited that the way these things came together wasn’t really top-down,” she said. “We work together and it’s very collaborative.”

They’re also working on opening up a new room from 1824, the year Quincy Adams stayed at the house.

For the past several years, Brow has attended the Small Museum Association Conference, and was later put on a committee that helps choose the speakers. Through the conference, she’s been able to meet museum leaders from around the globe.

“I fell in love with the Small Museum Association Conference because it’s all people who deal with similar issues,” Brow said.

She’s also spoken at several other conferences, including giving a talk on staff burnout as part of institutional sustainability at the American Alliance of Museums Historic House Summit in Miami.

This September, she’ll speak at the International Council of Museums Conference in Japan. Her talk will be centered around why it’s so important to professionalize small museums.

“I think it’s really important to have small museums that offer quality programs and not just hash out myths,” she said. “We use the history of this place not just to give you content, but we want you to use that content and think about it in a particular way. We really foster critical thinking.”

Brow has two goals for the museum.

“I want us to develop institutional stability and work on audience development,” she said. “We have to be willing to take risks, but be mindful.”

And she is in talks with a local punk band to organize a socially conscious music festival in the museum’s backyard.

For the first time, King Manor participated in the Department of Youth & Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program, and the museum has a STEM program for children every Wednesday morning.

“We can see that we are appreciated because we work directly with the public and with our neighbors,” Brow said. “Queens people really care about community and that’s something I value.”

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