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When a moment of reckoning becomes a moment of opportunity

Photo credit: AustinTexas.gov
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By Pete Levine ·
When a moment of reckoning becomes a moment of opportunity
Never Quit Service Award Winner Carre Adams. (Photo credit: Hakeem Adewumi)

The path to becoming the director of The George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas, wasn’t straightforward for Carre Adams.

Though his background was in both the arts and Black history, after spending almost a decade as an artist, Adams was ready for a change. He was still driven by making art, but he wanted a steady paycheck and health insurance: two things that a life as an artist didn’t provide.

He took a lucrative job in corporate sales for a cable company. When it came to the paycheck and the health insurance, the job fit the bill. But Adams’ thirst as an artist wasn’t being quenched. Eventually, he left that corporate job in search of a position that would not only provide a steady paycheck but fulfill him as an artist and allow him to expose his community to works of artists he admired.

That job came in 2015 at The George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, a museum named after the scientist and inventor. Adam’s first position was as an arts instructor. But there was a twist.

“The day that I arrived, I learned the former exhibit coordinator had recently retired,” said Adams, a member of AFSCME Local 1624. “It seemed unexpected, but the curator looked at my resumé and knew I was more than capable of installing an exhibition. She asked if I would pinch hit. I said no problem.”

Little did Adams know that exhibit needed to be put up within 48 hours. Adams wasn’t going to let the lightning fast turnaround time stop him, especially when the exhibit, “Can U See,” was of an artist he’d long admired: John Yancey.

“One of the drawbacks of doing a good job is you get more work,” joked Adams. “For the next eight to nine months, I basically served as the interim exhibit coordinator.”

Over the next several years, Adams channeled every ounce of energy into making the museum the best it could be. More than an arts exhibit space, the museum provides educational programming for youths and adults, and has a separate genealogy facility where people can research their heritage, and more.

“I really cared about making sure [the Austin] community had a space they were proud of,” said Adams. “I dropped so much blood on the floor of the gallery. There were nights I slept at museum to get things done because we were underfunded and understaffed. I had friends come and help me paint walls [for exhibits].”

That dedication was the reason that Adam’s former co-worker, Benson Thottiyil, nominated him for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

 “He does a wonderful job working with staff members to create incredible educational programs and exhibits,” says Thottiyil. “He goes above and beyond working with groups of wonderful, talented professionals to create these exhibits by working with them side by side.”

Others saw his dedication, drive and dreams for the museum, too. As positions opened, Adams applied for them, and eventually became the lead curator and culture and arts education manager, the head leadership role at the museum.

Adams’ fresh vision and thirst for innovation has come at the right moment for the museum. The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national reckoning over race has meant that he’s been able to channel his energy in new directions for the museum.

New exhibits, like “The African American Presence in 19th Century Texas,” and new partnerships with organizations like Fusebox, a nonprofit arts organization in Austin, as well as new digital and social media campaigns, means that the museum is expanding its reach, becoming more dynamic while preserving its original mission.

“We figured out ways to creatively continue doing our work,” said Adams. “We got to a place where we released the idea of a museum existing inside four walls. We’re in broadcasting and we’re producing in a new kind of way. This moment of reckoning is also a moment of opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity that Adams doesn’t plan on missing.

Never Quit Service Awards

Know a co-worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty? Nominate them for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

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