A sense of family is one thing that Director Julie Rose will take from West Baton Rouge Parish to her new job as director and curator of the Homewood Museum in Baltimore.
Rose has headed the West Baton Rouge Museum for the last 11 years and will leave her position at the end of this month for the same reason: family. After her husband, LSU professor Kenneth Rose, accepted a job at the University of Maryland, Rose had to decide if they were going to be a “commuter couple” and pursue separate careers from different locations.
The pros of staying in Louisiana outweighed the cons, she said. “But when push came to shove, we realized it needed to be family first.”
“It was a really hard decision to leave the West Baton Rouge Museum. We have such a great staff and so much momentum has been building,” she said.
The museum has seen major growth since she took the reins in 2006, not only on the museum grounds and in its galleries, but in the way it functions as an institution.
The museum achieved a major milestone under Rose’s leadership when she led the way on national accreditation in 2009.
“I think that really generated a lot of momentum for us in thinking about the museum in a much more professional lens, about how we could do things that have more of an academic flavor and really focus on history,” she said. “We were able to sort of peel away the layers that weren’t tied to the mission of the institution.”
The museum began to take a long-term approach to its planning, she said. With the help of staff and the museum’s Board of Directors, they established a vision for the museum beyond the immediate future.
This wasn’t just a wish list, Rose said. These were strategic planning sessions with clear pathways to meet new goals, she said.
“We found the museum didn’t have a reputation outside of the immediate community. There wasn’t a concerted effort to do long-range planning for exhibits, and that really helped the museum expand our reputation – a national reputation,” Rose said. “I think we’re really on our way… not just through paid advertisement but through achievement.”
One of those achievements is the growth of the museum’s campus with new buildings and landscaping.
“Things skyrocketed under her leadership,” said Jeanie Luckett, who has worked at the museum for the past 20 years. “We saw tremendous growth.”
The museum has always been able to tell domestic stories with the help of historical buildings.
But there was no story about work life.
“We really needed to expand our interpretation in our tour to talk about work life and the cultivation of sugarcane,” Rose said. “We needed a place to talk about tools and crops and crafts.”
That was made possible with the construction of the museum’s barn and the addition of the Arbroth Store, among others.
“We went from just being a sugar plantation museum to being a regional history museum, to tell the larger stories about how South Louisiana fits into the larger narrative,” Rose said.
Now, the museum is able to retell topics of global importance through a local lens by combining the works of national exhibits with local artifacts and stories, Rose said.
“While West Baton Rouge Parish is the smallest in the state it also has this global connection,” Rose said. “Our residents have served in the military all around the globe. Our music is played all around the globe. Our sugar and agricultural products are distributed around the nation and some around the globe. We have a far reach for such a small parish. We are a portal because of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and Union Pacific and the interstates. We are a central transportation center.”
Her work and her impact on the museum will not soon be forgotten, Luckett said.
“Julie helped us reach out regionally and nationally,” Luckett said.
The museum was the recipient of a national award last year from the American Association of State and Local History for its exhibition “Cohn High School: How We Love Thee.”
“She definitely left an indelible mark,” Luckett said.
Beginning her career in 1978, Rose said she never expected to be the head of a museum. But the experience has been “wonderful,” she said.
Rose will leave the museum at the end of the month. Curator Angelique Bergeron will take over the position.
“Julie is incredible at what she does,” Bergeron said. “It was an opportunity to learn from the best.”
“I think this is going to be a great next chapter,” Rose said. “I am really proud of what this staff has been able to accomplish.”