Myron Freedman’s first trip to a museum was a family outing to the Nevada State Museum in Carson City in the 1960s.
The excitement of exploring the old mine tunnel in the museum’s lower level and getting an up-close look at artifacts ranging from arrowheads to dinosaur bones helped spark a love of history and Nevada in the youngster that still burns bright more than half a century later.
It helps explains the smile on Freedman’s face as he prepares to take on a new role as the director of the Nevada State Museum, a dream job that took a winding road and more than five decades to come about.
“After growing up here (in Northern Nevada) and graduating from Wooster High School and UNR, getting married, then setting out into the country and eventually finding myself in the museum world where, for years, I produced experiences for visitors, and now to bring all that back here to the very first museum I ever visited, there’s just something poetic about that,” Freedman said. “Like a marvelous journey.”
Freedman, who has served as executive director of the Palo Alto History Museum in Palo Alto, Calif., since 2014, begins his new job in Carson City on April 3, filling the position left vacant by the retirement of Jim Barmore in July 2016.
“The Division is delighted to have Mr. Freedman join our team,” said Peter Barton, administrator for the Nevada Division of Museums & History. “Myron’s experienced leadership and innovative approach to guiding and growing cultural heritage organizations make him perfectly suited to guide the Nevada State Museum as it moves forward into its 76th year of service. We are excited to welcome him home to Nevada.”
Before working in Palo Alto, Freedman served as executive director of the Museum of Ventura County; executive director of the Hayward (Calif.) Area Historical Society; exhibits curator at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch) in St. Louis, Mo.; director of exhibitions and special projects at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis; and in several roles at the Chicago History Museum.
While his career in museums stretches back to 1988, such a career was the furthest thing from Freedman’s mind while growing up in Reno where his parents, Leon and Jennie, had settled with their five children, including then 2-year-old Myron, in 1962.
From an early age, his focus was on the stage.
“I got involved with theater when I was in grade school,” he said. “I was in the Nevada Youth Theater Workshop, worked with Reno Little Theater, Sparks Civic Theater, JLO West and the university’s Nevada Repertory Company. My buddy and I produced shows at the library when we were in junior high. Theater was at the center of my life.”
At the University of Nevada, Freedman found himself under the tutelage of professors Jim Bernardi and Bob Dillard in the theater department.
“They encouraged our creativity,” he said. “They encouraged our curiosity and boldness in pursuit of our art. And, they introduced us to many historical and contemporary theater styles. That had a lasting impact on me. Also, that experience of collaboration, where everyone works together to make the vision a reality is a shared value and process in the theater and museum fields.”
The theater department also brought Freedman something else — true love. He met his wife, Sue, when they were both dancers in a production of the musical “Hair.” They married in 1980 and a year later moved to Chicago where Myron landed a role with the Free Shakespeare Company, later the Chicago Shakespeare Company. Within two years, he became the company’s artistic director.
“It was a stimulating and exciting life, but I wasn’t making very much money,” he said, explaining that he used his experience building sets for the theater to land a part-time construction job.
It proved to be those construction skills that helped him land his first job in museums.
“The Shakespeare company’s scene designer was working on new exhibits at the History Museum in Chicago and said they needed help, and that’s how I got involved in museum work,” Freedman said.
Freedman started in 1988 as a museum preparator, maintaining galleries, constructing and installing exhibits. Within two years, he was the installation manager and by 1994, the director of exhibit designs. He and Sue’s two daughters, Zoe and Eva, were born during this period.
In Chicago, Freedman worked with Andrew Leo, who he considers another of his mentors.
“He was the one who saw that I could take my experience directing in the theater and apply that to AV programs in the galleries,” he said. “Some of the first big projects I produced were exhibit videos. He opened up the door to another creative world for me. I owe him a real debt.”
Once immersed in the museum world, Freedman found many similarities to the theater.
“When I started with the Chicago History Museum, I quickly learned that the missions had a lot in common, because they’re both about communicating ideas,” he said. “They just use different mediums to do it. So, I really took to it like a duck to water. To me, a gallery was like a stage or a canvas. I was thrilled to show up to work every day.”
It’s a passion that has never left him and Freedman can’t contain his excitement to be home in Nevada and having the opportunity to lead one of the state’s iconic museums.
“What I’m thrilled about at the moment is being absorbed into Nevada history again,” he said. “I’ve done that for the other museums I’ve worked for and it’s the most satisfying privilege of the job. Learning Nevada history in school as a kid felt like an adventure story, and I’m looking forward to diving back in for new chapters.”
Freedman said his first order will be to meet with the museum’s curators, historians and stakeholders.
“I want to know, what are the stories they’ve been dying to tell,” he said. “What I found most inspiring when I was looking at this job was seeing the collections. Nevada has wonderful collections and thinking about the many stories that we will share with visitors, both the familiar and the untold, is really exciting.”