Hancock Shaker’s new village chief explains what the utopian Christian sect can teach us about sustainability and equity

The Hancock Shaker Village Board of Trustees has chosen Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s successor to lead the museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Nathaniel Silver, currently Collection Curator and Division Head at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, has also worked at the Frick Collection in New York and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. , DC Next month, he will take over as executive director and CEO of the village site that was once home to the community-minded utopian Shaker sect. Silver spoke with WAMC.

MONEY: I worked in the non-profit field for over 10 years in several different museums. What is interesting about two of these museums is that they were not only incredible collections, but they also included the buildings themselves as architectural monuments. And one of them also included the terrain. And I would say that’s a particularly unique aspect of Hancock Shaker Village, that the village is not only a collection of over 22,000 incredible works of Shaker material culture, but also the incredible 20 18th century buildings on the property as well as the 750 acres in the working farm. So, you know, I would say in that regard, I have some experience working with a non-profit organization, with an arts organization, it’s a whole work of art, a work of art in its entirety .

When you think of the different ways the village could develop in the future, explain this to me, what are some ideas of potential avenues for the village to be compared to where it is today?

So above all, I would like to take some time and better understand the needs of the staff and the village. But I think there are some really amazing cornerstones that give the village a real guiding North Star, and those are the Shaker values ​​themselves. The Shakers believed deeply in equity, gender equality, and racial equity, and I think that’s something that the public programs really helped drive home. And they believe very deeply in sustainability, and that affects the entire Hancock Shaker Village campus. And that’s something that I think we can find in really fascinating new ways to communicate with our visitors.

Of course, you’ve spent almost the last decade working at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a famous Boston institution. Can you talk a bit about what that experience was like and how institutions like Gardner or Shaker Village can play a role in communities?

Of course, I think the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a fantastic institution. I really enjoyed every minute of my almost eight years working there. It’s a legacy institution, it’s a quintessentially American institution, in that it was founded by an American woman ahead of her time as a legacy for the public for the community. And she says so, in fact, in her bequest. You know, I see a lot of parallels there with Hancock Shaker Village. The Village as a non-profit organization was for visitors, for our community. And we want to continue to work with our community and help them understand why we are relevant today. And I think one of the interesting things about institutions like this, which is, you know, legacy institutions, is that they tell a story of our past, of the past of this country, at a time in our increasingly complex present where people are increasingly looking to the past to help us understand this present, and the diversity of past experiences, whether a museum founded by a woman or an entire movement like the Shaker movement that was also founded by a woman and led by women, and how that speaks today is just more relevant than ever before.

Now, in the press release, you talk about Shaker’s values ​​around fairness and sustainability as possible examples of a past to draw on. Explain this to me, why did you choose these two examples?

Why did I choose these two examples? Well, we know for a fact that the Shaker movement was a movement founded by women and that there were many female leaders in the movement, which, frankly, in late 18th century America is unusual. And that’s actually something that I really enjoyed, because I come to Shaker Village from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was founded a little later, founded at the beginning of the 20th century by a really pioneering woman, and who was a leader of his time in many different fields. And so actually, the idea of ​​these kinds of people out of their time talking to us in the present, was something that really connected those two institutions for me. I also chose, I mentioned, equity also in terms of race. The Shakers, had, there were Black Shakers, there were white Shakers, they treated their members, their brothers and sisters the same. I think that’s an incredibly powerful example at that time, because of course it was a bit unusual at the time, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful example for us today.

So yeah, walk us through the timeline here, when you take over the village, when can we expect that to happen?

So I’ll start on September 19, which is only about a month away, and I’m really looking forward to it. And in the meantime, I am ending my stay at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I have parental leave, we have a newborn, and we are currently attending, which is obviously a full-time job as well. And then I can’t wait to take over the reins of 19e.

Now, is there anything about that that I haven’t thought to ask you that you want to make sure people understand what the Silver Warrant will be like, so to speak, in Hancock Shaker Village?

First, I would say that Hancock Shaker Village is a beloved institution in its community and we want to make sure it remains that way. And I want to say that Hancock Shaker Village has done some really amazing things in the last six or seven years. Very, very dynamic programs, you know, amazing things with the farm and with the campus. And I really see that as an incredible foundation and opportunity for growth.

And with regard to, for example, a managerial approach or any message to staff you would work with, how would you describe your style with workers?

You know, I listen to what people have to say. I headed a division at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for several years that includes the collections department, curatorial department, archives department, and publications department. We play a crucial role in guiding public programs with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and I would see a very similar approach to what I rely on, which is to really listen to what people have to say, what people need, and then try to best meet those needs and really help people do their job as well as possible.

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