An interview with Chesney Doyle, Creator, Great Museums®

The creative goal of Echo Pictures, Inc., the independent production company that created “Great Museums,” is clearly stated: “to knock people out with a half-hour of T.V. that sends them to the Web or their local museum, library, historical society, or schoolÂ…” Now, imagine that statement spoken with determination and a melodic Southern accent and you have a sense of Chesney B. Doyle, who with her husband Marc Doyle is executive co-producer. She compliments the museum field as she explains the series’ format: “We don’t have a host, or a bevy of our own experts, or a Sister Wendy,” she says in reference to public television’s popular art historian-nun. “We rely on the museums’ own curators, archivists, and archaeologists who have dedicated their lives to their fields. We couldn’t imagine a host who is as passionate and knowledgeable as the people from the museums themselves.”??

She and her husband work closely with museum staff to bring the museum’s key stories to a television audience, envisioning each half-hour episode as “an extension of the museum’s mission.” From the start, it was a priority to portray the diversity of America’s museums and though the series certainly includes crown jewels like the Field Museum in Chicago, the Doyles have concentrated largely on mid-sized and smaller museums. Since starting the project in 1998, they’ve covered institutions that range from South Carolina’s Charleston Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia—among the nation’s oldest museums—to newcomers like the California Surf Museum, Oceanside. From their base of operations in Atlanta, the Doyles have traveled to L.A. to feature the Hollywood Entertainment Museum; to Denver to cover the Molly Brown House Museum; to Washington, D.C., for the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and Clarksdale, Miss., for the Delta Blues Museum.

??Stations that pick up “Great Museums” can air the episodes in any order but Echo Pictures’ recommended line-up has the show on the New York City Fire Museum coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11. Just a block away from Ground Zero, the Fire Museum’s 1904 firehouse structure and collections of historic and modern firefighting equipment survived the terrorist attack (see “Telling the Story: New York City Fire Museum,” Nov./Dec. 2001). The museum is staffed largely by firefighters, retired and active. The close-knit firefighting community suffered greatly in the attacks, and it is one part of the larger story that the NYC Fire Museum tells.??Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani appears in the show, speaking about his uncle who was a fireman. He made time to be interviewed for “Great Museums” says Chesney Doyle says with gentle pride, “and Giuliani gets an overwhelming number of interview requests every day. But really,” she says, “Deputy Director and retired firefighter Tom Walters and Curator Peter Rothenberg are the stars of the show.”

- Amanda Krauss

??Excerpts reprinted, with permission, from Museum News, September/October 2002.

Copyright 2002, American Association of Museums. All rights reserved.

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