At 35 years on staff, Palmer is an industry leader and the Mint’s longest-serving employee
Cheryl Palmer, the Mint’s longest-serving staff member and educator, will retire November 14 after 35 years with the museum – a career that made her a nationally respected leader in museum education.
Palmer began her career at the Mint when it was a small, quiet museum fronting on Eastover’s Hempstead Place and shepherded it through expansions in 1985, 1999, and most notably the 24-hour grand opening of Mint Museum Uptown in 2010, which was attended by more than 12,000 people. Known for forging community partnerships, her many accolades include being nominated by her peers to receive the 2005 American Association of Museums Education Committee’s Excellence in Practice Award. In 2010 she received the Excelente Award as the Non-Latin Person Most Supportive of the Latino Community in Charlotte.
“Cheryl’s impact is so profound, she has led too many major initiatives to list,” said Dr. Kathleen V. Jameson, President and CEO of the Mint. “For me, Cheryl will always hold an especially important place in my heart, as we began what I have come to value as an incredibly important friendship and professional partnership during the search that brought me to Charlotte in 2010. Cheryl served as the staff liaison and was instrumental in my enthusiastic acceptance of the Mint’s offer to serve as its next President and CEO. Cheryl has been a mentor, counselor, and inspiration for me and countless others who have had the privilege to work with her, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her.”
Palmer has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Smith College and completed Master of Arts coursework in Art History at the University of Oklahoma. Prior to her role at The Mint Museum, Palmer worked at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, her hometown; and she taught art history at the University of Tulsa. Her first job was as an artist/illustrator with the Peace Corps in Niger, Africa, using the visual language of drawing to counter illiteracy.
At the Mint, she led the museum’s successful reaccreditation by the American Association of Museums in 2005-06; launched a Latino Initiative which increased program participation by 20 percent in its first 18 months; and hosted public programs with exceptional artists and scholars, including Romare Bearden, Ida Kohlmeyer, Beverly McIver, Dale Chihuly, Joseph Walsh, Joyce Scott, and Vik Muniz.
“To many Latinos, Cheryl was the first warm ‘bienvenidos’ Charlotte gave us when we first arrived. Then, when she became Tia Cheryl, you knew you had settled into your new home,” said Violeta Moser, executive director of the Latin American Women's Association.
Palmer’s position of Director of Learning & Engagement is being posted internally for Mint Museum staff first, which is standard museum practice, before being shared externally. In her retirement, Palmer plans to pursue her longtime ambition to become a Master Gardener. “I am very fortunate to have been able to pursue my passion for art as a museum educator, with most of my career spent at the Mint. I believe that museums are more than treasure houses – museums and their treasures can inspire innovation, wonder, discovery, creativity, and deeper understanding of the human story through time and across diverse cultures. To play a small role in the growth of this stellar museum, and to help it become a center of learning and creativity, has been a joy and the best job imaginable,” said Palmer.
The Friends of the Mint, an affiliate group that supports Mint Museum programming by bringing in monthly guest speakers, will make a donation in Palmer’s honor to support the Art Fusion program, a free monthly event offering interactive art-related activities and performances to the public. The next Art Fusion event will be held at 6 p.m. November 19 at Mint Museum Uptown (more information at mintmuseum.org/happenings).
Palmer’s impact, regionally and nationally
“After 35 years in the field of art museum education, Cheryl Palmer has had a national impact on the transformation of museums and a focus on education as core of museums’ mission. As Director of Learning & Engagement at The Mint Museum, Cheryl created national models of community partnerships with the schools, college and universities (the Regional Collegiate Art History Symposium for 25 years), and the Latin American community. Before the recent national recognition of health programs in museums, Cheryl initiated Museum as Refuge programs with cancer survivors and Metrolina AIDS Project clients in 1990s. As a pioneer in art museum education, Cheryl Palmer has mentored museum educators and initiated innovative educational programs for more than 35 years.” Susan Perry, Executive Director, Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC)
“Cheryl Palmer makes me happy every time I see her. She’s been making Charlotte a better place nearly forever, but seems not to have grown a year older. She’s always open to new ways of connecting art and people. When I arrived in Charlotte in 1981, she was breath of fresh air in the sometimes stuffy Mint Museum. As I became a museum person myself, I have so often visited the Mint for inspiration – ‘discovery areas’ for kids right on the museum floor, the marvelous Latin American Festival, the cozy connectivity of ArtSi. It’s easy to burn out in this line of work, but Cheryl remains ever-upbeat, with a smile that encourages people to share ideas. Thank you, Cheryl Palmer!” Dr. Tom Hanchett, staff historian, Levine Museum of the New South
“I’m sad for the arts community, but happy that Cheryl will have the time to do the things she loves so much. It is a true loss. Cheryl is leaving the Mint in a very good place with extraordinary programs and the impact of her time there will be felt for many years to come.” Robert Bush, president, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council
“I knew the day would come sometime, but it’s always too soon when it does. Cheryl has been the greatest museum educator I have known, generous and smart, tireless and creative. No one can fill her shoes.” Jeff Pettus, Senior Program Director, Artists and Communities (North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources)
“Cheryl Palmer and I met over our shared experiences in West Africa and became fast friends and colleagues. Cheryl is a museum education beacon shining out into the world of education and of art museums with her great work ethic and her sense of balance. I always looked forward to seeing Cheryl at national meetings where we would talk about art and museums and how we could make the world a better place through the resources we managed at our respective museums. She is a quiet leader, one who doesn’t seek the limelight but rather seeks to do interesting things that involve interesting intellectual challenges; that involve the development of the people with whom she works; that involve art giving voice to untraditional voices.
Cheryl is extraordinarily upbeat and very patient in her expectation of change: she has always acted on the idea that the art museum, and museum education as a field, had opportunities to create community, assist in the education of young people, and bring people together in a joint humanity. The art is important to Cheryl, but people are first. I could delineate programs that she created during her tenure at the Mint that are important, but I do believe the most important thing about Cheryl and her career at the Mint and in museum education is that she never gave up the belief that what she did, what she nurtured others to do, had a lasting impact on the lives of the community and individuals, including me.” Honee A. Hess, former director of education at the Worcester Art Museum, current executive director of the Worcester Center for Crafts