President Lincoln’s Cottage announces that Michael Atwood Mason will assume the role of CEO and Executive Director. Dr. Mason, who most recently served as the Director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, will lead the Cottage effective September 13, 2021.
“We are thrilled to have Michael join us during this time of change and challenge and we are confident that with his strategic leadership the Cottage will move forward to a new era of growth and impact,” said Rick Murphy, Chairman of the Board of Directors of President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Dr. Mason brings a wealth of experience in storytelling, humanities scholarship, and organizational leadership to President Lincoln’s Cottage as it strives to position itself as a leading voice on Lincoln’s life and legacy.
“President Lincoln’s Cottage is the rare museum that inspires and facilitates meaningful social change. What’s more, it has long been an example of a cultural institution that uses the power of place, detailed inquiry, and dynamic storytelling to educate and inform. At this moment of deep questioning about the future and meaning of our democracy, I’m excited to join President Lincoln’s Cottage to showcase the many insights Lincoln’s legacy can bring to today’s challenges. It is my pleasure to join this creative, award-winning team as we raise the profile and prominence of the Cottage,” said Dr. Mason.
A PhD in Folklore, Dr. Mason began his career at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum as a researcher and exhibit developer. Later, he spent 20 years at the Museum of Natural History where he ended his tenure as Director of Exhibitions. He was named as the Director of Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in 2013, where he oversaw cultural and educational programs and led the Smithsonian Folklife festival and Smithsonian Folkways recordings.
During his tenure at Folklife, his team won Grammy awards, research awards, and commendations from Congress and two foreign governments. Under his watch, the center increased their digital reach from 10 million to 305 million. He also developed a new Cultural Sustainability Program working with communities to document, preserve, and present their most cherished cultural expressions.
Dr. Mason takes over leadership of the organization from long-time director Erin Carlson Mast, who relocated to Illinois to serve as the President & CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation and Callie Hawkins, Director of Programming at President Lincoln’s Cottage, who served brilliantly as Interim Director.
Dr. Mason’s appointment comes after a national search spearheaded by Koya Partners, an executive search firm tasked with finding a leader to meet the future goals of the Cottage.
We are excited to ride ponies, eat Ruby Scoops Ice Cream, play lawn games, and run the Freedom5K during our Cottage Homecoming THIS Saturday (September 18th). After a tough year, we can’t wait to welcome you “home” to this special place for a celebration your whole family will love.
RK: It’s back to school time so let’s talk field trips! What kinds of field trips is Lincoln’s Cottage offering this year?
JC: We’ve got a pretty good spread – there are onsite and virtual field trips for students in kindergarten through the university level, and we’re experimenting with options for PreK students as well. All the onsite field trips include a specialized tour of the Cottage and a hands-on component. Just like our standard Cottage tours, we’ve increased safety for these programs by limiting capacity and requiring everyone be masked while on the grounds. The virtual field trips are all synchronous, and connect our museum educators with students in the classroom or at home to learn about Lincoln’s experience here at the Cottage and work on their own brave ideas.
RK: I know it is hard to choose between such great programs, but which of these programs is your favorite to teach?
JC: It really depends on the mood I’m in! I love teaching From Abe-to-Z because I love hearing all the great questions students have, especially younger students. If I’m in the mood for a really deep dive into content, and a complex discussion about Lincoln’s leadership and the legacies of slavery, Lincoln’s Toughest Decisions – which we do in person and virtually – can be really satisfying. And I always have fun with I See the President because we ask students to create a short acted-out fable, and it hearkens back to my previous work teaching playwriting.
RK: As a DC native, were there any field trips that inspired you as a child that you think back to now?
JC: Unlike many of the students who visit us at the Cottage on their school’s trip to DC, I never did field trips to, say, the Washington Monument or the Smithsonian museums as a native of the DC area. I do remember really enjoying the trip to see Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, and just being thrilled that they were gonna let us decide how the ending of the story came out. That sense of agency was so exciting, and it’s something we incorporate into all our field trips at President Lincoln’s Cottage. Each and every program includes moments for students to share their own perspectives and to develop their ideas about the world.
RK: How has Abraham Lincoln influenced the way the Cottage has designed education programs—like these field trips– during the pandemic?
JC: I’d be very curious to hear what Lincoln thought of the concept of field trips, as a person who never really got to go to school! I know he liked to go out into the world to learn from the perspectives of those around him, so I think he would have appreciated the type of experiential learning field trips can offer.
We are taking our popular comedy series, Two Faces Comedy with the DC Improv, to the great outdoors! Please join us on the evenings of September 22nd and October 19th on the North lawn by the Lincoln statue for uproarious fun inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s legendary humor.
Click here for tickets.
Support our educational programs, preservation efforts and public events by making a contribution to President Lincoln’s Cottage. Donate online today.