Q&A With Christina Shutt

Christina Shutt, 37, has served as the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum since June 2021. Previously, Shutt was executive director for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the African American museum of history and culture for the state of Arkansas. Under her guidance, the center was awarded first-time national museum accreditation.

click to enlarge Q&A With Christina Shutt

Since joining the ALPLM, it has also received first-time national museum accreditation, a distinction only 3% of U.S. museums hold. She has also worked with legislators to transform the position of Illinois State Historian to focus on underrepresented history, launched community outreach efforts to make the institution more welcoming and inclusive, and hosted the signing ceremony to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in Illinois.

Shutt holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri, and two master’s degrees in library science/archival management and history from Simmons University in Boston.

Where were you born and raised, and how has that impacted your life?
I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, a place that is about family and community, and that has really impacted the way I think about museums. Museums should be a welcoming space to all people. I've really tried to do that here at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and throughout my career, making history and museums accessible and relevant to people's lives.

When and how did you decide on your career field?
My mom used to drag me to museums all the time but I use the word lightly because I loved to go; I was a total museum nerd growing up. When I was in college, I got the opportunity to go to the National Archives for the first time, and standing in the rotunda with the Charters of Freedom, seeing the Declaration of Independence for the first time, it struck me that I could have a career where my job was literally to protect our country's most valuable treasures for future generations.

click to enlarge Q&A With Christina Shutt
ALPLM executive director Christina Shutt welcomes guests to an event at the museum's Union Theater.
It was also an opportunity to do that in a place where there aren't very many people who look like me. In fact, there is only one other Black woman in the whole country who has been in charge of a presidential library. It's been such a joy and opportunity to create new pathways for others as I blaze trails for myself.

How did you become interested in Abraham Lincoln?
Lincoln was someone who was always learning. When he didn't know something, he picked up a book and learned about it. That's one of the things that continues to stand out and amaze me because it encourages and reminds me that's the kind of leader I need to be, someone who is always learning.

What surprised you the most after you took over as head of the ALPLM?
I was surprised at just how dedicated our volunteers are. We have volunteers who actually fly here from places like North Carolina or drive from Omaha just to volunteer at the ALPLM. I have never worked in a museum where you see that kind of dedication. It's really cool to come to work every day and be a part of that team.

What professional difficulties have you faced by being a woman of color?
I am often the only woman sitting at the table, and I am almost always the only woman of color in the room. I've really had to focus on the challenges of people maybe not taking me seriously, and the idea of how can I bring my whole and full self into the room? How can I represent voices that are often not at the table and make sure those voices are heard?

I'm the mom of young children and remember what it was like going to museums and having to nurse your child somewhere and how difficult it was. I wanted this museum to be different, so we worked with a donor and created a nursing room here at the museum. We've actually heard from a number of women who come here to do research about how helpful that is to them.

What was the inspiration for your Abe for All initiative to reach out to under-represented populations?
I've always been passionate about museums being for all people. When I grew up, I didn't see myself in museums. I didn't see myself reflected in the exhibits or in the volunteers or staff. So part of this initiative is helping people to understand that we

click to enlarge Q&A With Christina Shutt
ALPLM executive director Christina Shutt speaks to a group of ALPLM supporters in the library's Lincoln Reception Room, with historic Union Station in the background.

see you, we value you, you belong in this museum and your story matters. I'm so excited for all the opportunities that we've had to engage with different communities, whether it's the deaf community or people on the autism spectrum. It's really opened a lot of doors to hopefully change people's perceptions about museums and help them realize that museums are for them, too.

What parts of Lincoln's legacy still resonate for us today?
We are still engaged with the challenges of democracy and the importance of citizenship and its responsibilities. That was something that Lincoln dealt with, what a new birth of freedom might look like for millions of enslaved Americans. We are still talking about the role of the news media, something Lincoln also dealt with.

What advice would you give to young people who are entering your career field?
Always be someone who is willing to learn and grow from everything. I learn from people all of the time about how I can be a better leader, how I can be a better me and how I can make a difference in people's lives.

What might people be surprised to learn about you?
When I was a kid my original dream job was to be an ice cream taster. I thought it would be really fun to be someone who got to taste ice cream for a living. Little did I know that is an actual job. But history is just as fun, and occasionally we do get ice cream here.