By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
Shana Bushyhead Condill was announced as the new executive director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in June and says she has hit the ground running.
On Thursday, July 22 the Museum hosted a meet and greet for the community and local stakeholders. Before diving into the networking event, Condill took a few minutes to discuss her first two months on the job.
“In my interview process, they were really upfront about all kinds of things, which was awesome. Because that really allowed me to hit the ground running. So, we’ve been moving pretty quickly,” said Condill.
She said that she is looking forward to working as a true leader and is excited to push what she sees as a group of top-notch employees.
“I have a huge blessing in the staff that I inherited. They’re incredibly talented and they all have their own ideas and visions for the future, which is fabulous. I feel like my job is really to kind of enable them and lift them up and get them going.”
Condill holds over 20 years of experience in the field, and she got her first taste during her undergraduate studies at Illinois Wesleyan University. During her junior year in 1998, she decided to intern at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
“I think it was never a question of wanting to serve my community, but it was like, ’How would I serve my community?’ And I certainly loved the museum, my parents took me all the time. But I wasn’t really thinking about it as a career ever,” said Condill.
“To get that as an experience was life changing. That’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
Shortly after this falling in love with the idea of museum work, Condill saw the next piece fall into place.
“When I was an undergrad, I had an English professor who happened to know somebody that worked at the National Museum of the American Indian. And back then, there was no Museum of the American Indian, like it wasn’t a building yet,”
Condill was able to intern in 1999 at the National Museum of the American Indian. She knew at that point there was no turning back. She dedicated the next 20 years to different positions in different museums, working most recently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
As someone who worked at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in 1998, Condill says it’s fascinating to see what all has changed in the time between.
“That’s what’s so cool about it. Now, it’s time for us to make our mark on it. Ken Blankenship, of course, had the helm for a long time and did a fantastic job sort of making a name for the museum. All of the different kinds of add-ons … the museum has grown over the years for sure, and it’s our pleasure to sort of take it to that next level. Get us on a playing field with some of the larger Tribal museums that we know about and just the museum world in general. Indian country in general.”
Who the museum is catered to is a leading factor of how Condill is approaching her new position. She says that there will be some significant changes coming that will look to lift the community.
“The main priority for all of us, I think, is we have been visitor-focused for a long time. And we’re fortunate, we have all of these people that come to Cherokee as a destination. We have visitors coming to the National Park. We are so fortunate to have all of these visitors, and that’s great. I think what we want to do is shift the focus to our community and make sure we’re serving them primarily,” said Condill.
“One of the first things we need to do, then, is find out what those needs are. We’ve been anticipating what we think a lot of them are, but we want to make sure we ask. What are the best ways we can serve? We’re not interested in preservation, necessarily, for just preservation’s sake. I’m not just trying to preserve a basket just to preserve a basket, but why am I preserving that basket? What’s it for? For an artist that’s currently interested in weaving and wants to look at something from 200 years ago? I’m here for you.”
While there are countless things that the new executive director wishes to get to work on, she said that she knows what she was brought here for.
“The Board was really interested in having a look at the permanent exhibit and updating that. So, that’s going to be an exciting project…I am hoping within two years we can have that completed.”
Condill says that she wants the Museum to continue being something the community is proud of, as well as a destination for all types of learning. She says that she is ready to take her next step forward and lift it to new heights.