Phillips Oppenheim

Barack Obama Presidential Museum Director, Chicago, IL



"Our goal with the Obama Presidential Center is to connect history with action. The space will tell President Obama's story in ways no other presidential library or museum has. And perhaps more importantly, it will deliver on the President's timeless idea that ordinary people can gather together and make change."


The Barack Obama Foundation ('Foundation') was officially established as an operating, 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in January 2014. Conceived as a highly interactive center for research and social justice, the center's programming starts with the President's life story to inspire, encourage and support civic engagement in others, especially, but not exclusively, those who might think similar aspirations beyond their reach. The Foundation is governed by a volunteer board of directors chaired by civic leader Martin Nesbitt.

The Foundation's current working definition of its mission is "to inspire people and empower them with the tools, training and opportunities to improve their world." Through a variety of programs and initiatives, the Foundation aims to inspire and equip all citizens to make change in their communities, and to strengthen the next generation of civic leaders. Over time, Foundation programs could include storytelling, training and connecting young leaders, capturing real-time lessons from the front lines of civic action, and facilitating the difficult conversations that every society needs to have.

As part of that mission, the Foundation is designing and constructing the Obama Presidential Center ('OPC'). The OPC will include space for the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) research and storage facility (The Barack Obama Presidential Library) where the records, documents and artifacts from the Obama presidency will be preserved and made available for access to the public, and the Barack Obama Presidential Museum ('Museum'). The central focus of the OPC will be on collective action... the "yes we can" approach to making change. The OPC will be a unique place that will provide the tools and programs to show how all citizens can engage with their communities, their governments, and the political process to define and bring about the change they believe is needed. It is the President's story, and each citizen in our democracy can be empowered to write his or her own.

The OPC will be both an instrument and expression of the President and Mrs. Obama's continuing work, a place that will communicate their shared and central belief: that ordinary people can gather and make change. The OPC's ability to convene a variety of disciplines at the highest levels of achievement will make it special; doing so with the aim of collective action, located on the South Side of Chicago, will make it singular.

As a truly urban presidential center, the Foundation intends to use a wide range of programming to engage constituencies from communities of all scales: from the nearby neighborhoods to the global citizens who will convene and participate both in person and digitally. One of the OPC's principal objectives is to provide dynamic and flexible programming spaces to support a wide range of activities and the convening of individuals and groups to explore, learn and collaborate across a broad cross-section of ideas and causes. In addition to furthering the goals, actions and themes pursued by President Obama and Mrs. Obama during his presidency and the vision and activities of the Foundation, individuals will be empowered to investigate and solve the problems that stir their particular passions.

At the same time, NARA's portion of the OPC will provide a facility for the administration and release of the historical materials from President Obama's administration in keeping with the Presidential Records Act (44 U.S.C. 2201-2207), and support the ongoing mission of the National Archives under the Presidential Libraries Act (44 U.S.C. 2108). The OPC will fully support NARA's efforts to further develop the collections through the solicitation of private donations of historical papers and other historical materials related to President Obama's presidency, life and times, in order to ensure their appropriate preservation and management for use by future generations.

The Foundation's ambition for the OPC's Museum is similarly unique. The Museum will be a fully interactive, state-of-the-art environment, and will be, where practical, interwoven with the Program Spaces in a manner that links Museum's exhibits to the actual day-to-day workings of the Foundation and the OPC visitors who are engaged in active research, workshops, seminars and other programs. The spaces within the Museum will not only explain the story and impact of this historic presidency, but also provide an ever-changing platform for the continuing work of the President and Mrs. Obama. The Foundation envisions that the space allocated to the Museum will include permanent and temporary exhibit gallery space. The Foundation is in the process of engaging an exhibition design consultant with experience working with startup museum projects to assist in this endeavor and support the incoming Museum Director.


Chicago's South Side
For over a century, the South Side of Chicago has been a breeding ground for artists, innovators, and other agents of change.

This is where Chicago Black Renaissance writers Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks depicted the culture of the urban ghetto, where investigative journalist Ida B. Wells opened America's eyes to the horror of lynchings in the rural South, and where Langston Hughes chronicled the black experience as a columnist for the Chicago Defender, the influential black weekly newspaper that continues to publish today. House music was created here in the 1980s, and it remains the adopted home of the blues. In recent years, the area is experiencing a resurgent creative energy, with local organizations and leaders engaged in revitalization projects that range from education and arts programs to new ventures in tourism, cultural programming, and commercial development. New businesses and tech incubators have begun to replace abandoned storefronts and empty lots. This resilient spirit, combined with a network of cultural and educational institutions, has nurtured and inspired countless dynamic leaders, including President Obama himself.

A ribbon of world-class cultural institutions stretches across the South Side, from the South Shore Cultural Center to the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and its many museums and performance spaces, and the DuSable Museum of African American History. In addition to the University of Chicago, other local educational institutions include the University's famous Laboratory Schools, Hyde Park Academy and Mt. Carmel High, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Following the South Side's tradition of creativity, innovation, and activism, the Center will bring together people from all walks of life to imagine a better future and create real progress and change.

Museums in the Park & Museum Campus South
Chicago's cultural aesthetic is shaped by its motto Urbs in Horto, a city in a garden. Appropriately, its 11 major museums are all located in parks - the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Field Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Industry, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium. Collectively, they are known as Museums in the Park. Closer to the OPC's Jackson Park site, a group of cultural institutions have formed Museum Campus South. These museums are frequent collaborators that have joined to serve not only the surrounding communities more effectively, but to market the institutions to the rest of the city, the region, and the world.


The Foundation will be responsible for all aspects of the design and construction of the OPC, including raising the entirety of the funds needed for construction of the project. The OPC will include a library holding the Presidential archives research facilities and collections; space for programs and initiatives that advance the Foundation's and NARA's public mission, and the Museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and issues of our time. The Obama Foundation has selected Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners (TWBTA) to lead the design team for the OPC, and Interactive Design Architects (IDEA) to be their partner.

The Foundation will collaborate with a number of organizations to develop and operate the OPC, including the City of Chicago, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the University of Chicago. The Foundation and NARA will work together to develop the Barack Obama Presidential Library as part of the OPC. When construction is complete, the Foundation will transfer control of the Library portion of the OPC to NARA, which will operate it along with the 13 other Presidential Libraries. The University of Chicago has pledged staff time, expertise and temporary office space to the Foundation to support the OPC's development.


The Museum Director is expected to take advantage of the Barack Obama Presidential Museum's unique opportunities embedded within an unusual interpretation of the traditional presidential library model. Setting the professional bar commensurate with the Foundation's institutional stature and ambitions, the Director of the Museum will assume management of the Museum. S/He will position the Museum as the first point of entry to the OPC and ensure it is a welcoming and highly appealing space and experience. To that end, the Director will provide a dynamic and authentic vision for the Museum, taking the curatorial lead in defining the scope and direction of the institution's exhibitions and public programming. The Director, in partnership with key volunteer leaders and staff, will be charged with developing and executing a strategic plan for the Museum that will capitalize on the strengths of the Foundation and the community as well as on what has already been achieved. S/He will lead the marketing and audience development strategy on-site and online to introduce the Museum to local, regional, national and international audiences, and create a financial and fundraising plan that provides for financial stability.

This position will require close and collegial collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Obama Library Director, who will oversee the collection accrued during the eight year presidential administration and the further acquisition and management of collections, the head of the Foundation and senior leadership across the Obama Presidential Center, as well as with the Obamas themselves when appropriate. The position initially will report to the Executive Director of the Foundation.

The Foundation, working with its own team of advisors, will prepare a draft "Narrative" for the Museum and its exhibitions in preparation for the Director's arrival. The Narrative will describe the major chapters or "rooms" in the Museum, as well as the key themes and moments to be included in each. Preliminary programming spaces are estimated to be between 25,000 - 30,000 sq. ft., within an approximately 200,000 sq. ft. Center. Ultimately, the Museum Director will be responsible for this narrative, daily operations and managing a staff of between fifteen to twenty people, as initially envisioned. S/He will lead and support an active exhibition and public programming schedule of the highest quality, designed to capture the interest of broader and more diverse audiences on site and online regionally, nationally and internationally, while providing innovative connections with the vibrant local community and external partners.


The Museum Director will be an inspiring yet pragmatic museum professional, fundraiser and manager who can generate ideas as well as empower and support others to implement them. S/He will have the following priorities:

  • Know the Obama's story and administration thoroughly; learn their values, life lessons and aspirations as each informs the Foundation's mission and objectives; translate this information into programming, exhibitions, support and advocates;
  • Forge strong and sustainable working relationships with critical partners, such as NARA, including an agreement as to how textual records and artifacts will be borrowed from NARA/the Obama Library for exhibit purposes; likewise, get to know and gain the trust of the Obamas, internal peers, museum staff and other stakeholders to ensure their support for the Museum;
  • Ensure vibrancy! Develop, along with colleagues, staff and key volunteers a programmatic vision for the Museum that reflects a commitment to empowering the individual, to advocacy and to institutional excellence; develop through programming a unique experience that is accessible to a wide range of audiences; embrace advances in the field in order to meet audiences when and where they want to learn; ensure a vibrant interactive Foundation/museum website, digital presence, online content and programming appropriate for multi-generational and international constituents; help cultivate and support the next generation of change agents and leaders;
  • In partnership with the team charged with branding the Foundation identify avenues for introducing its mission and programs to the broadest audience possible; be an active participant and leader in the social justice arena and position the Museum as a convener and catalyst; develop and formalize appropriate roles for support organizations in the community and around the world to allow active collaboration; plan for and execute the opening of the Museum with the broadest possible audience participation; institute the means for sustained support once the novelty has subsided;
  • Understand the Museum's proposed base of support; embrace the role of primary spokesperson and chief fundraiser for the Museum; in tandem with a centralized development department, proactively address development needs, including the building of a substantial endowment funds and cultivating existing as well as new patrons while ensuring that sound fundraising strategies are in place; identify and maximize opportunities for mutual support and integration between the Foundation and its constituents; works in partnership with NARA/Library Director to develop collaborative education and the educational offerings;
  • Understand and shape the financial dynamics of the organization; ensure, by effective leadership and management, that the day-to-day operations are efficiently administered in a fiscally responsible manner and according to AAM professional standards and best practices; develop short and long-range plans with metrics for progress and continually ensure that policies are evaluated, implemented and congruent with institutional goals and industry best practices;
  • Hire, manage, motivate, and evaluate staff and maintain a collegial staff structure; support staff's desire for professional development and rigorous standards as needed.


The ideal candidate will be passionate, creative, collaborative and deeply thoughtful about the potential for the Museum. S/He will have or be the following:

  • A proven self-starter, at ease in her/his own skin; a strategic and confident leader who can set and implement industry guidelines as the Foundation's top museum professional; roll-up-your-sleeves startup experience a plus; nonhierarchical can-do attitude a must;
  • Able to negotiate graciously yet remain clear, decisive, proactive and fair; someone who possesses an understanding of the subtleties of motivating, directing and working with a group of committed individuals;
  • An understanding of and commitment to social justice and advocacy; knowledge of the advocacy arena and its key players; an ability to translate this into meaningful collaborations and programs that speak to the Foundation's mission and audiences;
  • Senior staff-level administrative experience in a museum known for excellence; a practitioner of best practices informed by direct experience and deep networks; recognized credentials in an appropriate discipline; knowledge of AAM standards and best practices;
  • Direct experience planning and implementing programming, ideally for a new space; familiarity and comfort around a major construction or capital project a plus;
  • Financial acumen commensurate with running a facility the size and stature of the Museum; able to interpret and articulate financial statements and performance;
  • Ability to build relationships with a wide range of individuals from activists to academics to citizens to business and civic leaders; proven fundraising ability from a variety of sources, including a track record cultivating and soliciting gifts from individuals; capital and endowment campaign experience is a plus;
  • Committed to fostering a welcoming and productive environment bringing transformational experiences to diverse professionals and lay public; conversant in the use of technology and digital media in promoting an institution, reaching audiences, and creating innovative and engaging exhibitions and programs;
  • Experience in the demanding social schedule of an organizational director; capacity to become a visible presence on site and beyond; excellent verbal and writing skills; demonstrated effectiveness as a spokesperson and ambassador for an institution or program;
  • Demonstrated experience working in and fostering a diverse staff, community and a commitment to do so; transparent and curious by nature; possessing the wits and wit to help a hardworking team of co-horts launch an important and high profile institution.

Applications and nominations are to be submitted to the attention of Sarah James and Becky Klein at

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