Thursday, September 20, 2001

Museum hires Smithsonian director

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Smithsonian Institution executive will run Cincinnati's planned National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center.

        Spencer R. Crew, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., is the Freedom Center's new executive director and chief executive officer.

        Mr. Crew, 52, a nationally recognized scholar of African-American history, will be in charge of the final design of the museum's programs and exhibits and will run the center's daily operations.

        He officially begins work Nov. 5.

        “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that one just cannot walk away from,” Mr. Crew said in a phone interview.

        “A person would like to have one or two opportunities in his career to make a difference, and I think I've had that opportunity at the Smithsonian. This position with the Freedom Center was a lucky additional chance to make a difference.”

        Edwin Rigaud, founding president of the Freedom Center, will maintain his title and role as top local fund raiser and community leader. Mr. Rigaud, 57, had been a Procter & Gamble Co. executive on loan until he retired in July.

        Mr. Riguad said Mr. Crew's hiring positions the center to become a top history institution in the country, if not the world. His leadership and experience will make it a world-class learning facility that will attract millions of visitors, Mr. Rigaud said.

        “Spencer was our top choice from the beginning,” Mr. Rigaud said. “Frankly, I didn't think we could get him.

        “The Smithsonian is a very prestigious institution and Spencer was well positioned there,” he said. “Our ability to land such a top-caliber person speaks volumes about the importance of the Freedom Center and its mission. It also says we are coming into our own as a national institution.”

        As chief curator and top administrator, Mr. Crew will report to the board's executive committee.

        “Our relationship will be hand-in-glove,” Mr. Rigaud said. “He will be Mr. Inside and I will be Mr. Outside.”

        Mr. Rigaud declined to divulge Mr. Crew's salary.

        Family ties had role in Mr. Crew's decision to accept the position. A New York native, he spent most of his pre-teen and teen-age years growing up in Cleveland.

        Mr. Crew said he's eager to return to the state he calls home. He said many close relatives still live in Ohio, including a cousin in Cincinnati.

        As director of the National Museum of American History , Mr. Crew oversaw its complete reorganization.

        He joined the Smithsonian in 1981 as a historian. In 1987, he became curator of the museum's Division of Community Life. Mr. Crew served as the museum's acting deputy director from 1991 to 1992.

        Among the exhibitions he has overseen are “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Dialogue on American Sweatshops, 1820-Present,” which opened in 1998, and the acclaimed “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” which opened in 2000.

        Before coming to the Smithsonian, Mr. Crew was an assistant professor of African-American history at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. He graduated from Brown University in 1971 and holds a master's degree and doctorate from Rutgers University.

        The Freedom Center, designed to celebrate the courage and cooperation of the Underground Railroad, is scheduled to open on Cincinnati's riverfront in 2004.


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