The new face of York County’s museums started work this week.
Carey Tilley, executive director of the Culture and Heritage Museums, spent his first week meeting museum employees, learning museum ins and outs, and visiting sites.
Tilley is the first permanent director for the museum following long-time director Van Shields’ resignation in September.
Rock Hill’s Harry Exell has been leading the museum as interim director to give the Culture and Heritage Commission time to select a permanent director.
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Since 2006, Tilley served as executive director of the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, Okla., where he worked with the Cherokee Nation to “tell their story” to the public, Tilley said.
The mission of the Cherokee Heritage Center is to “preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture” through exhibits, living history, art, education programming and cultural preservation.
During his tenure, Tilley oversaw the reconstruction of an 18th century historic village and organized a cultural outreach program in 2007 that in 2010 reached almost 10,000 people, mostly students. He's also managed the creation of living history and Cherokee language programs.
Before moving to Oklahoma, Tilley was executive director of the Chieftans Museum and Major Ridge Home, a National Historic Landmark in Rome, Ga.
Tilley is married and has four children.
He sat down for a conversation this week with The Herald. Answers are edited for brevity.
What are your first impressions of your new job?
I’m very excited about the community. I’m pretty impressed with the staff here. What I’ve seen so far, they’re very talented, and ...they’re committed to the mission. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited about getting to it.
What are two major achievements you’re proud of from your work in Oklahoma?
The focus on the mission of telling the Cherokee story, and preserving things that illustrate that story. And we moved the museum forward in some strong ways. We had significant increases in the attendance over the years and also the number of people we served went up dramatically.
We also increased the net assets of the organization by 250 percent, and so there was a period of strong growth while I was there in the face of a tough economy.
In what ways will your work there inform what you do here?
We had just entered into a partnership with the tribe, with a nonprofit tribe. That’s going to give me some background on dealing with what may be some tough issues with the county working with the nonprofit sector.
Also, just working with the staff, some of the issues that came up there that were challenges. If you’ve got talented people, you can bring them together and make them work, and I think that’s what we’re going to be about here.
As a new director, how much might recent changes at the museums affect how you’ll approach your job?
As a historian, I’m always interested in the history, but at the same time it’s something to learn from, and to take, carry forward, and not dwell on the past but say, “Where are we going? What are we going to do now?” and not so much worry about what happened several years ago or in the last couple of years.
If there’s something that needs to be fixed, we’ll fix it. And other than that, we’re going to move forward and have some very positive things happening here.
How did your ties to the South affect your decision to come here?
One of the things that attracted me back here is I was born and raised in Georgia, lived a little bit everywhere in the state. This is what I know. This is home. I know South Carolina is not Georgia, but it is the kind of environment I’m used to, and I feel this area, York County, has been wonderful.
The reception that I’ve gotten from the people, it just makes me feel at home. And it’s been exciting – the food – getting back into Southern cooking. I missed that when I was in Oklahoma. So it’s just wonderful to be here and have the opportunity.
Any culinary experience you’ve had recently you’d like to note?
When I came back from the interview, and I know this may seem simple to the people who are from here, I was able to get grits and collard greens on the same menu. That’s what I grew up with, and that’s what I associate with home, so that was wonderful.
Meet the new director
Carey Tilley will be at Historic Brattonsville Saturday for Children’s Day on the Farm, where he and his family are excited about meeting the public – and newborn lambs.