Representing the CMA at the White House


On June 1st awaking to an azure blue Washington, DC sky, I had a flutter of butterflies while preparing for a very special visit.  I had taken great effort to select an ensemble that reflected the inspiration exhibited in the Columbia Museum of Art galleries.  The main pop of color was a hue of chartreuse.  Entering the lobby of the hotel where CMA Executive Director Karen Brosius was waiting, I laughed when I saw two other ladies wearing similar color schemes. Director Brosius and I, were among a total of 20 individuals that would later stand on stage with First Lady Michelle Obama in The White House.

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Part of the Official Invitation

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Official IMLS Booklet and My Bio

The 20 (10 institution heads & 10 community members) represented 5 libraries and 5 museums.  We all were in the nation’s capital for the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service ceremony.   The national medal is awarded by the Institute of Museums and Library Services; and is presented by Mrs. Obama.  It is a once in a lifetime award and Columbia Museum of Art was the only art museum this year.  I was honored to be selected as the community member who accompanied Director Brosius and Board President Claude Walker to Washington, DC.

Telling the cab driver “White House please” was a dream come true.  Upon arriving to the designated gate you could feel the electricity of excitement.  We were all as giddy as children on Christmas morning.  Once done migrating through the various security areas we entered into a space just outside of the East Wing of the White House.  We were all guest of Mrs. Obama and therefore were able to carry purses and use the powder room to freshen up.  Ascending a beautiful staircase to the second floor we entered into the grandeur that is the people’s house.  There was a quick walkthrough of the ceremony and then we were free to roam.

In front of Jackie Kennedy Portrait

In the First Ladies Portrait Room

Looking out on the South Lawn

Looking out on the South Lawn

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Looking toward the Rose Garden

Chilling In The Red Room

In the Red Room before the ceremony.

I enjoyed wandering between the East Room, Red Room, Blue Room, Green Room, and State Room.  I never wanted for anything and I truly felt like an honored guest.  Sitting and chatting with the other attendees, such as Robin Sparkman CEO of StoryCorps was magical.  Shortly before the ceremony we had a private meeting and photo with the First Lady, Mrs. Obama is everything you’d imagine and more in person.  She is regal and gracious.  Upon entering the East Room for the ceremony it was a humbling moment to hear the applause guests and attendees.

The Columbia Museum of Art had the pleasure of sitting directly in front of the podium.  Listening to the opening remarks by both IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew and Mrs. Obama showed the importance of the institutions receiving this year’s national medal.  Due to the work in the community the CMA & the other awardees are anchors and a resource to uplift.  A reception directly followed the ceremony with delicious heavy hors d’oeuvres.  Both Director Brosius were interviewed by the Post & Courier regarding the ceremony and what the national medal will mean for the CMA.

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Photo Credit IMLS Staff: CMA Director, First Lady, Community Member(Author)

Mingling in the Blue Room it seemed as though it couldn’t get any better.  Visiting rooms steeped in history, I spoke with the President and Community Member of the Chicago History Museum, one of my favorite hometown museums.  Someone in the White House staff directed us to the Blue Room window, where we saw in the distance a helicopter.  Upon its we realized that it was a military helicopter and then it clicked.  “It’s Marine One”, we shouted.  Excited we looked and waited to see if President Obama was aboard.  He wasn’t but soon he came out to the lawn to board and before boarding, he waved to us.  What a fabulous surprise.

Surprise Marine One and POTUS

Photo taken by: Christian Hopkins, Community Member, Tomaquag Museum

Meeting First Lady of the United States and seeing the President of the United States was definitely a major highlight of this trip.  However, the beacon and jewel was definitely the awarding of the 2016 National Medal of Museum and Library Service.  It was a surreal and amazing experience to be selected as the Community Member.  I know the CMA Board & other leadership will not rest on their laurels after receiving this prestigious award.  I believe now they we will have an even wider wing span to soar.  I look forward to working with the CMA to ensure expanded outreach to the community.

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