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Embracing history – New exhibit on faith

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bill Massey sees the future in reclaiming the untold story of the past and connecting it to the Charlotte region’s increasingly diverse population.

Massey, president of the Charlotte Museum of History, is banking on a host of new programs, including a big exhibit on faith that opens April 22, to showcase the museum’s $7 million new building and boost its membership.

A key part of the museum’s strategy is to reach out to the black, Hispanic and Asian residents who continue to move to the region in growing numbers – but whose historic roles and impact typically have been overlooked.

The $450,000 “Community of Faiths” exhibit, which will focus on the spiritual and religious heritage of the Carolinas Piedmont, “provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to reach into our community today,” says Massey, who joined the museum in August after heading the National Charities Information Bureau and the Bryan Family Fund in Greensboro.

Massey plans to market the museum aggressively to a diverse audience, use technology to better serve visitors and supporters, and launch an effort to increase the museum’s endowment.

The museum’s future, he says, depends on illuminating the past in a way that engages the broad range of groups that live in and visit the region.

“Our responsibility and the challenge that we freely accept here at the museum,” he says, “is to make sure that, going forward, our exhibits relate not only to descendants of Europeans and Africans, but also to the newest members of our community, who are largely Hispanic and Asian.”

The museum, for example, will promote its Community of Faiths exhibit – with a major focus on the Rev. Billy Graham — by teaming up with civic organizations, religious groups and publications that serve a broad range of racial and ethnic groups.

Other projects also aim to expand the museum’s reach. Thermal-imaging photography, for example, helped identify what appear to be foundations of slave cabins on the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite that was built in 1774 and is part of the museum’s 10-acre campus. Working with local groups, colleges and universities, the museum plans to rebuild the quarters.

“We feel like the homesite is incomplete until we are able to show the life of the people who actually did the work on the farm and in the house,” says Massey.

He recently hired Robert Young, former director of major and planned gifts at the Athletic Foundation at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, as vice president for development. And he hopes to build the museum’s endowment to $10 million from its current $4 million over the next five years.

Massey, a Durham native who was associate vice chancellor for university relations at UNC-Chapel Hill, says he decided to return to North Carolina because the museum’s trustees “cherish the idea of the museum being as much about the future as it has been about the past.”

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