Please join us in welcoming David McKenzie to the Folger as the Head of Exhibitions. In this role, David will oversee the creation of a new Exhibitions department which will focus on re-envisioning the scope, content, and implementation of a dynamic, community-focused program of materials display and interpretation in 6,000 ft² of brand new exhibition space. He comes to us from Ford’s Theatre Society, where his most recent position was Associate Director for History. In July of 2021 he completed a PhD in History at George Mason University. We are excited to have him on board.
How did you become interested in working in exhibitions?
When I worked as a tour guide at the Alamo, I learned about public history as a career path and decided that it was for me. Specifically, I wanted to engage in storytelling about the past. Since that time, I’ve worked on storytelling in different formats—developing and leading tours, youth programs, talks for people of different ages, distance learning programs, online exhibitions (for lack of a better term), online archives, distance learning—but I keep coming back to physical exhibitions as a favorite. I love creating experiences in a three-dimensional space that engage people in stories using objects and varied forms of media.
What are you most excited about with coming to work at the Folger?
I’d met Folger people in digital humanities and history circles over the years, so when I applied for the position, I thought it’d be neat to work at the Folger. The more I talked with different people across the organization during the interview process, the more excited I got about the direction the Folger is going. Specifically, I’m excited about the Folger working to make itself more welcoming to people of all walks of life, to engage more people in our many different subject areas, to be not just a national and international institution but a local one. Although my dissertation was set in the 19th century United States and Mexico, I’ve long had an interest in the early modern world—I even used to attend a seminar on that era at Georgetown University. I’m excited to get back to learning more about that period and working collaboratively with everyone to help connect that pivotal time to our present day. I’m excited about working across the many different parts of the Folger, working with the people who tell stories in many different formats.
The Folger is opening a brand new exhibition space. What types of exhibitions do you hope to see in this new space?
I’m excited about the permanent exhibition plans that Exhibitions Coordinator Kristen Sieck, Director of Education Peggy O’Brien, Eric Weinmann Librarian and Director of Collections Greg Prickman, and so many other Folger staff members already had in motion when I came on board, in conjunction with our partners at Studio Joseph, Storythings, Becker & Frondorf, and BlueCadet. I’m especially pleased that all of us on the team are interested in pushing the envelope, to offer new and innovative ways for learners of all ages to engage and grapple with a lot of subjects and questions through the Folger’s vast collections. In addition to this permanent exhibition, we’ll have a space for temporary exhibitions. I’m looking forward to working with partners inside and outside of the Folger to try different means of storytelling, to bring out different stories and perspectives using items from the Folger’s collection and beyond.
Are you working on any projects you want to share with us?
I started in the midst of planning Folger’s new permanent exhibition. This exhibition will bring out a good number of pieces from the Folger’s collection in new and interesting ways. The North Hall will focus on Shakespeare—his life, his impact (especially in the United States), his plays… Capped off with displaying the 82 First Folios that Folger owns, all together! The South Hall—the Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall—will be a place for visitors to see so much else that is in the Folger’s collection, and that the Folger is about. Collaborating with everyone working on the permanent exhibition is keeping me plenty busy!
But at the same time, I’m also collaborating—especially with my Exhibitions partner-in-crime, Kristen, along with others who will join our group in the future and many others across the institution—to plan future temporary exhibitions and rotations in the permanent exhibition.
We also have some other projects up our sleeve, so stay tuned!
Although you haven’t had access to the collection due to our renovation project, is there a favorite object you have learned about?
The broad scope of the Folger’s collection is exciting to me! Having spent the last 8 years working at Ford’s Theatre, this drawing of Columbia—a 19th-century stand-in for the United States as Lady Macbeth really resonates with me. During my time at Ford’s, the legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction era became all the more relevant in our society today. This drawing, showing slavery as the country’s “original sin,” as a stain that our country can’t easily expunge without a serious reckoning, feels as relevant today as it was at the time of the drawing’s creation. Objects like this can be good starting points—which Folger can provide—for our society to do the reckoning with, the working through of the past.
David and Kristen in front of the new Folger construction. Photo © Greg Prickman.