Dion Brown, the new president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center who started on Feb. 26, is no stranger to museums. He got his start at the Exploration Place in Kansas, where he initially began as HR director after spending 21 years in the military.

“The president came in about six months later after I started and said, ‘I like what you do and I’m going to show how to become a president,’” Brown says. He would later become the founding executive director of the National Blues Museum in St. Louis and executive director of the BB King Museum in Mississippi.

Brown’s background is in operations and he is looking to bring that approach to the Freedom Center with the goal of increasing its visibility in the community and beyond.

Why did you decide take this position?

I know about as much about the Underground Railroad as I do about the blues, which is nothing. But I know how to do operations and it’s a continuous learning process. I like to learn [and] I’d like to go get another degree. This came up and this is a perfect living history here [that] I can do. I can learn about the past, I can learn about the present, plus make an impact in the community.

What do you see as the role of the Freedom Center in the community?

I think we’re already a central point [my role is] just to highlight even more the message that we put out about freedom for all. If we activate some of the other spaces through music on the outside like the plaza, that gets people excited about coming down to the Freedom Center. You hook them that way, then they see us. So they say, “What are you guys doing there?” And that’s how you pull them in.

And music brings everybody together. That’s what I’ve used at every museum I’ve worked at, especially in the blues business, is use the music to hook people in because it brings everybody together to have hard conversations that you may not feel comfortable having.

What would you like to see happen with the museum in the next couple years?

I’m big on earned income. Between the talent we have here, the talent that is at the Cincinnati Museum Center and their artifacts, I think if we use that partnership correctly we can put together two to three [traveling] exhibits over the next five years and put them on the road. Because once you have the exhibit on the road, if it’s a good exhibit, … every 90 days there’s a check for you.

Our attendance numbers are up this year, our membership numbers are up, and that’s great but I want to grow even more because this is Cincinnati’s museum. If you’re proud of it, when guests come to town to visit you you’re going to want to show this off to them. They’re going to go home and say you’ve got to go. And that’s going to continue to build the brand.

What’s your favorite thing in town so far?

My favorite place so far to eat is Knockback Nat’s. That place right there has the best wings I have ever had.


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