Levine Museum of the New South appoints Dr. Richard Cooper as new President and CEO
September 12, 2023
Levine Museum of the New South is delighted to announce that nationally renowned museum innovator and public historian Dr. Richard Cooper has come aboard as President and CEO of Levine Museum, bringing a wealth of expertise and 20 years of experience at two of the nation’s most prominent museums.
Cooper comes from the Conner Prairie Museum near Indianapolis, one of the most popular living history museums in the U.S. with an annual visitation of 400,000, where he served as Vice President and Chief Programs Officer, leading a team of 300 to develop exhibitions, digital projects, educational experiences, and other programs exploring a full spectrum of communities and cultures.
He previously served as Director of Museum Experiences at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. A social justice advocate, Cooper is a national authority on interpreting the history of American slavery and the Underground Railroad, and speaks widely on topics of diversity and inclusion, museum strategy, and engaging the community through culture, outreach, and partnerships.
“Rich has everything it takes to carry on Levine Museum’s mission and growth as we search for a new permanent home, deepen our digital presence, and broaden our reach into diverse communities across the Charlotte region,” said Levine Museum board Chairperson, Ty Niess.
“Dr. Cooper is a serious student of the museum world,” said museum board member Dr. C.G. Newsome, who previously worked with Cooper when Newsome led the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He credits Cooper for helping the museum achieve a major accreditation, find new resources, leverage technology, and attract new and diverse talent.
“He is a champion of the inclusive museum concept,” Newsom said. “No one works any harder than he does at finding new ways for a museum to communicate effectively with people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Selected after a national search guided by an executive search firm, Cooper’s arrival opens a new chapter for Levine Museum. The museum left its aging uptown location in 2022 and relocated to a new temporary space in Charlotte’s uptown museum district on Tryon Street, where it currently offers free admission.
The move helps make the museum more nimble as it explores new ways to engage the community and transition from a traditional, facility-focused museum to one that meets people where they are – in neighborhoods, on digital devices, and at a central location.
“I heard about the bold programming at Levine Museum throughout my career, so I’m thrilled to become a part of that and to also get a chance to know the vibrant Charlotte community,” said Cooper, who led the development of a mobile tour experience that went viral, allowing visitors in 35 countries to tour the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center virtually.
“I want to build upon Levine Museum’s rich legacy while also fostering agility and adaptability as consumer expectations and demands change, and the Charlotte region grows and evolves,” he said. “I am also fully aware of the high expectations this community has for Levine Museum: to amplify its historical role as a beacon of education, empathy, and engagement – making it an even brighter force for understanding and change.”
Cooper, who calls himself an “educator at heart,” taught at Northern Kentucky University, where he received a master’s degree in public history and a doctorate in education. A Cincinnati native, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Cincinnati.
Cooper will continue Levine Museum’s embrace of sensitive issues by hosting community conversations as issues arise, he said. He’ll also oversee the launch of the museum’s new Charlotte history exhibition in 2024, as well as a web-based digital project called 50 places in Charlotte and a podcast that puts Charlotte’s achievements and challenges in context with those of other U.S. cities.
Cooper replaces retired President and CEO Kathryn Hill, who led Levine Museum for more than six years, pioneering its “rapid response” exhibition on police killings called (K)now Justice (K)now Peace and broadening its use of technology while also navigating the challenges of the pandemic and the museum’s relocation.
An open house to welcome Cooper is set for Sept. 23 and will coincide with the opening of the museum’s latest exhibition, States of Incarceration, a national traveling exhibition documenting the history of incarceration through human stories drawn from more than 30 communities. The open house will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Levine Museum, 401 S. Tryon Street.