After acting as president and chief executive officer (CEO) since the exit of Stephanie Hill in August, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (BCM) on Wednesday confirmed Vincentian-born Atiba T. Edwards as its new head.
“This appointment is an honor and opportunity,” Edwards told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “I spent a lot of time at Brooklyn Children’s Museum with my family and, about seven years ago, I co-taught an arts residency for BCM’s teen program on Art and Activism and have now been working here almost five years.
“The Brooklyn Children’s Museum helped shape my experiences, because it is rooted in igniting and kindling curiosity amongst children and, in turn, their families,” he added. “Additionally, it was a place where diversity was part of the fabric as children would play in the sandbox or shop in the grocery store or have fun at June Balloon.
“It was simply that children – regardless of race, culture, background or any other things – children being children,” Edwards continued. “This is a special place as we champion diversity and bring that to the forefront every month with cultural festivals and public programs that uplift and amplify cultures, so people see themselves celebrated and others learn a rich history that is the fabric of Brooklyn, and, in turn, the world.”
Edwards, who was born in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, said he grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and spent “a lot of time” between there and Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
He said that once he started at the Museum in 2019, as the chief operating officer (COO), “it was refreshing to be working deeply in a neighborhood that I also spend a lot of time in, as the community that surrounds BCM is so rich and caring.”
In my role as CEO, Edwards said he looks forward to “building upon the layers of foundation my predecessors have laid, dating back to our inception as the first children’s museum in the world in 1899.
“I am excited for the opportunity to deepen already existing partnerships and launch new ones, as we were founded in Crown Heights and remain here amongst many generations of visitors,” he said. “I want to bring them and all of their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren into BCM to see all that we have done in the last few years.”
Edwards added that “curiosity, identity and joyful learning are the key values of why BCM exists and continues to grow.
“This is a place where everyone is welcomed, as play is one of the great democratic equalizers and means of education,” he said. “The informal experiences and bonds that BCM has built over the last 124 years can be seen across the world, as many people went on to work in cultural organizations, politics and both the public and private sector.
“I am honored to be the newest president and CEO at BCM, as I join an amazing team of colleagues and Board of Trustees who, together, we help to live our mission and continue developing the values of BCM for the 300,000 people served each year and the millions that Brooklyn Children’s Museum has served since inception,” he continued.
Edwards said being the president and CEO of BCM help him to expand on the set of answers that young people consider in reply to the question: “What do I want to be?”
He said this is because they now see him in this role, alongside his colleagues and peers “who are also leading storied arts and culture organizations.”
To pull from Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black,” “we must begin to tell our young there’s a world waiting for them,” Edwards said.
“My appointment helps to tell and show them how wide and wonderful their world can be,” he said.
Prior to his appointment as acting president, Edwards said he spent nearly five years as executive vice president and COO at BCM, overseeing visitor experience, finance and human resources, building operations, and marketing.
Previously, Edwards said he was director of operations at Brooklyn East Collegiate, a middle school that is part of the Uncommon Schools network.
He said he began his career as a Fixed Income Research Analyst at JPMorgan’s Investment Bank, where he covered the automotive sector, and at Nomura Securities in their “high grade and high-yield fixed income research divisions.”
Edwards – who graduated from the University of Michigan, with degrees in Industrial Operations & Engineering and Liberal Arts, with a focus on poetry and musicology – also co-founded FOKUS, a non-profit organization that connects and builds community through arts.
In making the announcement, BCM said “Edwards has been an integral part of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum since 2019, when he joined the cultural institution as chief operating officer (coo) and executive vice president.
“In this capacity, he served with outstanding leadership, overseeing various critical functions of the museum, including adeptly managing the budget, implementing systems to increase staff efficiency, overseeing an incredibly successful rebranding effort, and spearheading an array of new offerings at the Museum, including the highly acclaimed ArtRink exhibition, launch of a mini-golf course and the inauguration of a state-of-the-art auditorium,” it said.
“His impressive career trajectory also includes a diverse range of experiences,” BCM added.
“Inspired by the energy and diversity of our borough,” BCM said it “creates experiences that ignite curiosity, celebrate identity, and cultivate joyful learning.”
BCM also prides itself as “New York City’s largest cultural institution designed especially for families,” serving 300,000 children and caregivers annually, “with exhibits and programs grounded in visual arts, music and performance, natural science, and world cultures.”