Jane Turner & The Children’s Museum of Atlanta: “Listen to your “better angels””

Listen to your “better angels.” Jettison the internal negative noise and the “what-ifs” that lead to insecurity and doubt. The understanding that you can be your own worst enemy has another side which is that you can be your own best advocate. Listening to your “better angels” means to choose the positive, the possibilities, the […]

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Listen to your “better angels.” Jettison the internal negative noise and the “what-ifs” that lead to insecurity and doubt. The understanding that you can be your own worst enemy has another side which is that you can be your own best advocate. Listening to your “better angels” means to choose the positive, the possibilities, the successes, and even the failures as part of your journey towards growth.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Turner.

Children’s Museum of Atlanta is operated by a professional staff, under the leadership of Executive Director Ms. Jane Turner. Ms. Turner has held the position of executive director for the Museum since September 2004. Since opening in 2003, the Museum has welcomed over three million visitors and additionally reaches thousands of children, families, and schools each year through extensive outreach programs in the community. Under her leadership, the Museum successfully raised $8.2 million for capital renovations in 2015. Prior to joining Children’s Museum of Atlanta, Ms. Turner worked for fifteen years in the healthcare technology industry in Washington, D.C. She moved to Atlanta with her family in 1992 and became immersed in its vibrant arts and culture scene, volunteering and serving on advisory boards and other boards in the theater community. Ms. Turner graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been drawn to the arts. In fact, my first job after graduating college was as a puppeteer and I worked in a children’s theater in Miami, Florida! A move to Washington, D.C. led me to a change in career direction and I began to work at a healthcare technology firm where I started as a grant writer and ultimately moved into project management. While the focus of this company was very different from my current focus and role at Children’s Museum of Atlanta, that position challenged me to be creative in many aspects. I’m a firm believer that creativity can and should find its way into every endeavor, no matter the field.

My husband’s career led us from D.C. to Atlanta at the very time I had just had our first child. I decided to take time off from work to focus on raising her. While I wasn’t actively in the workplace, I began to volunteer with a local theater company and became a member of their board, committing myself to their mission and work. The long-lasting impact — on both individuals and the community — that arises from the arts became so clear to me within that role, and to this day I am grateful for the time that I was able to spend immersed in and dedicated to their work.

At the time when I was looking to rejoin the workforce, the executive director position at Children’s Museum of Atlanta became available, and I ultimately found my sweet spot — a confluence of my love for business, people, the arts, and creativity while also making a positive impact on young children.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

While I am far from alone in this scenario, the Museum’s need to pivot during COVID-19 has been the most interesting and intensely challenging experience of my career thus far. When the pandemic descended upon all of us, the Museum had to close, causing our organization to be hit hard financially due to a halt in earned revenue.

The experience has given me a fresh perspective on life’s challenges. At heart, I thrive on problem-solving. Navigating the issues of COVID-19 made all other “problems” pale in comparison and has prompted me to ask myself, “Was that situation really a problem?” when reflecting on previous experiences that I viewed as less than ideal prior to the pandemic.

As an organization, Children’s Museum of Atlanta had no time to waste — our “boat” was sinking and we had to simultaneously achieve two things: keep the boat afloat and chart a new course to reach shore. Ultimately, this story is not about me. It is about the strength of a steadfast team of employees, board, and community partners, who came together, put aside their fears, looked the storm in the eye, and took action to keep the Museum intact to survive for the future.

In the long run, years of prioritizing an internal culture of teamwork became the very thing that saved us as an organization during these troubling times.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on in my career, I was given the responsibility of conducting and filming three focus group sessions in Denver, Colorado for a new product my company was planning to launch. With zero experience in conducting focus groups or filming, I proceeded to have a day where everything that could go wrong did go wrong! I began by renting a video camera, followed by driving through the Denver snow to the designated location, where I promptly locked the rental camera in my car along with my keys.

To my amazement, I recovered from that mishap and set up the sessions to be filmed. I was feeling good about the focus group sessions and felt that I had saved the day. Later when I played the film, I was horrified to find hours of static on the tapes with no trace of focus group discussions!

Ultimately, that experience taught me that it’s great to take on responsibility for something you have never done before, but it becomes all the more important to prepare, research, and plan well in advance. The five P’s — proper preparation prevents poor performance — could not be truer and I learned that on one fateful day in Denver.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Children’s Museum of Atlanta’s mission is to change the world by sparking every child’s imagination, sense of discovery, and learning through the power of play.

There is great power in play — it is how children interact with and discover the world and themselves. It is how they are able to cope, learn to engage with others, find their voice, grit, and resilience. It is how they embrace creativity — taking concepts and turning them into tangible inventions. Children are our future — as the world is faced with increasing challenges, we need people who are resilient, creative, smart, and turn their intelligence into real-world solutions.

This is ultimately our impact and the reason we are focused on reaching all children and families. No matter a family or child’s circumstances, we want the Museum to be the place where they are welcomed, engaged, liberated, and safe to learn the way that children learn best. The impact lasts well into the future, developing young children into their best selves and the leadership that our nation will need.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In our work to cater to groups who need special opportunities to engage with the Museum, we began a special monthly program for families who have children on the autism spectrum or have a sensory disorder. The families benefit greatly from time at the Museum tailored to their special needs, including lowered lighting, no music or extraneous noise, limited capacity, and more.

A particular family with a son on the autism spectrum became regular monthly visitors of the Museum, using the sessions as part of his occupational therapy. As the young boy frequented the sessions, he went from being fearful and hiding during the stage activities to actively participating.

Recently, he acted as part of the stage performance and has discovered unwavering courage while building strong self-esteem and connections with others. In each visit, he engages with our team members and we have all come to know and love him. He has made us better as individuals, team members, and an organization as a whole.

In a heartwarming exchange, his father let us know that the Museum has become incredibly important to their family as it is the one place where his son openly, comfortably, and actively engages and thrives.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Communities should have an active understanding that there is a critical window of time for the cognitive development that occurs in early childhood and promote generous investment in the young. A strong foundation formed in the early years of life goes a long way in preventing the need for difficult and expensive intervention at a later time. For individuals and for the communities in which we live, investment in the young reaps enormous benefit.

Similarly, investment in arts and culture organizations is important. Citizens should recognize the deep nourishment and value the arts and culture bring to the community by improving and enriching the quality of life, increasing employment opportunities, driving tourism, developing children as the next generation of leaders, and more.

Active recognition of the immense value of play is also vital within society and our community. Play is more than a “nice-to-have” opportunity for children, it is a must-have for them to be able to fully develop cognitively, emotionally, and physically. It is a critical component of each day and has been declared a fundamental right of all children by the United Nations.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is collaborative. It is rooted in passion, a clear vision and purpose, recognition of the value and power of teamwork, active acknowledgment of the work and accomplishments of others, and serious listening.

It is also about knowing boundaries and leading an organization based upon shared a vision, and ensuring that the organization stays laser-focused on that vision and does not veer astray. It is friendly, supportive, and has a strong focus on goals. It does not cast blame for mistakes — but rather views mistakes as opportunities to improve — and then move forward.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • You don’t need to know all of the answers — at the beginning of my career, I believed that I had to have all of the answers for any responsibility given to me. Because I, in fact, did not have all of the answers, it dawned on me that the way to discover real answers lay within the team itself and that my most critical role was to assemble a dynamic team. A motivated, collaborative, and competent team would be where all of the answers could and would be uncovered.
  • Trust your instincts — but do your homework. While I often rely on my gut instinct, it is also tremendously important to challenge that instinctive feeling with research and facts. We all live with assumptions about ourselves and the world that are based upon our own experiences, but it is important to recognize the need to look beyond those assumptions.
  • Be willing to take risks. It is okay to be wrong — just admit it, learn from it, and move forward. Many times, being wrong — making mistakes — should be celebrated as an opportunity to chart a stronger path. If you don’t try new things, occasionally stumble and fall, then you may find safe ideas, but very likely they will not be innovative and exciting. There is risk in every endeavor, but it is worth taking a risk to discover something great.
  • Clear, honest communication is almost everything — and conversely, poor communication leads nowhere good. Nearly every problem in management can be traced to poor or non-existent communication. This is not to say that there will not be challenges or failures, but when a team is openly communicating, any problems encountered can be recognized and solved. Time spent mired in issues due to poor communication is time wasted and missions not achieved.
  • Listen to your “better angels.” Jettison the internal negative noise and the “what-ifs” that lead to insecurity and doubt. The understanding that you can be your own worst enemy has another side which is that you can be your own best advocate. Listening to your “better angels” means to choose the positive, the possibilities, the successes, and even the failures as part of your journey towards growth.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It seems, as a country, we are losing the art of respectful discourse. When we stop listening to different opinions, we also lose the opportunity to expand our own views and understanding of each other, the complexities of our communities, and to meaningfully solve problems.

The movement I would love to see take hold is one where community-wide “conversations” take place — at every level: public discourse, among friends, and at homes that expand beyond the self-created “bubbles” of like-minded participants, including people of many backgrounds and opinions.

I believe that the impact could be profound in solving real-world problems and in creating rich, interesting, and harmonious communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” — C.S. Lewis

I don’t believe there is anyone who does not look back at the road-not-taken or the words misspoken and wish they could have been different. I have learned over the course of time is that there is no perfect life, flawless path, or magical answers.

When we always look in the rear-view mirror of what could have been, we never move forward. Taking stock of what has happened — without being overly critical — allows you to decide how to be, and what to say, going forward. Ultimately, it all feels like a grand journey.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ken Burns. I have been deeply inspired by the work of Ken Burns as he has brought to life some of the most important times and people in our nation’s history. I was moved in the early days of his career when I watched his Civil War series because it not only educated about the war, but it highlighted the voices of the people impacted by that time and great disruption.

He has made history real — he has transformed the way people learn about historic times and events from a dry series of dates and paragraphs to the real drama and complexities that these events mean to those who live through them.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Authority Magazine’s readers can connect with us on Instagram and Facebook at @ChildrensMuseumAtlanta, as well as on Twitter at @ChildMuseumATL.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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