Rob Fields was appointed last month as the new director of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling and wants to expand the imagination of local children with the goal of making them better citizens.
The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling was developed by Broadway Housing Communities and is part of the The Sugar Hill Project. The museum sits on the first and lower floor of a recently built 191,000 square-feet mixed-use building located at West 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. The space features art exhibition spaces along with visual arts and performance offerings.
Fields succeeded Lauren Kelley, who stepped down as head of the museum last June. Prior to his new role, Fields was the president and executive director of Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn.
In an interview with the AmNews, Fields said he’s been working hard over the past month as the museum reopens after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m the only person actually on staff right now, so we’re going to take it a little bit slow,” he said. “We want to make the museum sustainable for the long haul. I’m still very much getting to know the community but I certainly hope that the museum will be seen as a vibrant and welcoming member of the community.”
A native Cleveland, Ohio, Fields graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in professional writing. His past experience includes work in marketing prior to working with cultural institutions.
He served as president and executive director of Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn from 2017 until his recent appointment. The center features homes from one of America’s first free Black communities during the 19th century. While at Weeksville, Fields led the organization’s turnaround, which prevented the historic site from closing its doors permanently.
“I know there’s more work to be done to earn the trust and respect of folks in the community and I’m committed to doing that work,” Fields said. “I did it with Weeksville and I’m certainly committed to doing the outreach that’s necessary to make people feel welcome so that they can see art that is created by people that look like them, that reflects the experiences that they themselves have had.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent art programs were limited to many children in the city. Fields wants to give access to young people who may otherwise miss out on the advantages of having the opportunity to experience art, which he considers a necessity.
“Too often, the arts are seen as non-essential, and given a back seat to pressing, existential needs such as food, health care and housing,” he said. “Not only do we have the opportunity to make the Sugar Hill community even more vibrant, but we can show how—through creativity and collaboration—the arts build better citizens.”
As the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling opens its doors back up, it’s currently open once a week on Saturdays offering local children ages 3 to 8 story hours, art-making and performances. Fields says the museum allows children to build their imaginations contributing to their overall development.
“[Art] teaches them to deal with and process ideas that maybe they didn’t come up with or maybe they might disagree with,” he said. “I think we are in the business of building better citizens and I think we’re going to start with the youngest in our community and their families.”