IN THIS EPISODE

Robin shares why celebrating Motown’s history can unite people from different backgrounds during this period of political polarity. She also discusses adapting her leadership during the pandemic, the Motown Museum’s ongoing expansion, and why virtual environment opportunities have forever changed the museum’s programming.

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Motown is the story of the impossible being possible.

ABOUT ROBIN

Robin Terry is the Chairwoman and CEO for Motown Museum in Detroit, a cultural gem founded in 1985 by her grandmother, the late Esther Gordy Edwards, who was a senior executive at Motown Records and sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Robin has devoted the last two decades to preserving the legacy of Motown's iconic brand.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Erik Gensler: Robin, thank you so much for joining me here today. I’m really excited to have this conversation with you.

Robin Terry: Well, you’re welcome and thank you for inviting me.

Erik Gensler: Let’s start out just to hear a bit about the history of the Motown Museum; where it is, what your history is, just a broad overview.

Robin Terry: Motown museum is the birthplace of Motown records. So, when you think of artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, all of those great acts got their start at this little house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit called Hitsville, USA, and that was Motown. That was the home of Motown. And the visionary behind Motown is Barry Gordy and Barry Gordy, as a young 20-year-old songwriter, fell in love with this little house in a neighborhood in Detroit and was able to purchase that home with funds from his family savings club and he began to attract other singer/songwriters and young talent. And what happened in that little bitty house that he then called Hitsville, USA, became what we know today as the Motown sound, you know, Motown Records. And it is a legacy of music and inspiration and entrepreneurship that today, over 60 years later, since they created that history of music from that home, still resonates with people all over the world today.

Erik Gensler: And talk about the museum, when it became a museum, what that museum experience is like, and where it's going.

Robin Terry: So, it's a magical little space. I just have to say that. So, my grandmother is Esther Gordy Edwards, the founder of Motown Museum. She is the sister to Barry Gordy. So, during Motown's heyday in Detroit, she would refer to herself as his gal Friday. Of all of their siblings, she was the only one college-educated and she knew a lot about business and was quite a pioneer in her own right, but she agreed to come and help her brother with his business because he was a creative and not a businessperson—not a traditional kind of businessperson. And so, that's kinda my grandmother's story. So, when Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California, in 1972, my grandmother stayed and convinced her brother, “Just give me the Hitsville house. I want to make sure that we retain a presence for the company in Detroit,” and that's what she did. Now, at the same time, my grandmother was the collector and the historian, right? She collected things. And I don't think she knew initially that she was going to create a museum, but as the acts were going out and they were performing all over the world, my grandmother would collect things. If it was just flyers or promotional materials, she collected them, took photographs. And so, ultimately, she put those things on the wall back in 1983, ’84, ‘85, and people kept coming and they were coming from all over the world to this little house, Hitsville, USA, in Detroit because they wanted to see the original recording studio where these artists who are so beloved stood and made music. Like, where was this Motown magic created? And when she saw that, she called my uncle and she said, “Barry, maybe we made history and we didn't even know it.” And that was really the seed and from that point forward, she established the museum in 1985 and by 1987, it was designated a historic site. And people have continued to come from all over the world, all 50 States, seven continents. They come speaking no English, but they just know, they know the words to those Motown songs and it is a music that unites them. It's a music that broke down barriers. It's a music that people celebrate and reflect on childhood. And so, there's something really powerful that continues to resonate with the music and the physical space where all of that music was born.

Erik Gensler: Robin, thank you so much for joining me here today. I’m really excited to have this conversation with you.

Robin Terry: Well, you’re welcome and thank you for inviting me.

Erik Gensler: Let’s start out just to hear a bit about the history of the Motown Museum; where it is, what your history is, just a broad overview.

Robin Terry: Motown museum is the birthplace of Motown records. So, when you think of artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, all of those great acts got their start at this little house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit called Hitsville, USA, and that was Motown. That was the home of Motown. And the visionary behind Motown is Barry Gordy and Barry Gordy, as a young 20-year-old songwriter, fell in love with this little house in a neighborhood in Detroit and was able to purchase that home with funds from his family savings club and he began to attract other singer/songwriters and young talent. And what happened in that little bitty house that he then called Hitsville, USA, became what we know today as the Motown sound, you know, Motown Records. And it is a legacy of music and inspiration and entrepreneurship that today, over 60 years later, since they created that history of music from that home, still resonates with people all over the world today.

Erik Gensler: And talk about the museum, when it became a museum, what that museum experience is like, and where it's going.

Robin Terry: So, it's a magical little space. I just have to say that. So, my grandmother is Esther Gordy Edwards, the founder of Motown Museum. She is the sister to Barry Gordy. So, during Motown's heyday in Detroit, she would refer to herself as his gal Friday. Of all of their siblings, she was the only one college-educated and she knew a lot about business and was quite a pioneer in her own right, but she agreed to come and help her brother with his business because he was a creative and not a businessperson—not a traditional kind of businessperson. And so, that's kinda my grandmother's story. So, when Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California, in 1972, my grandmother stayed and convinced her brother, “Just give me the Hitsville house. I want to make sure that we retain a presence for the company in Detroit,” and that's what she did. Now, at the same time, my grandmother was the collector and the historian, right? She collected things. And I don't think she knew initially that she was going to create a museum, but as the acts were going out and they were performing all over the world, my grandmother would collect things. If it was just flyers or promotional materials, she collected them, took photographs. And so, ultimately, she put those things on the wall back in 1983, ’84, ‘85, and people kept coming and they were coming from all over the world to this little house, Hitsville, USA, in Detroit because they wanted to see the original recording studio where these artists who are so beloved stood and made music. Like, where was this Motown magic created? And when she saw that, she called my uncle and she said, “Barry, maybe we made history and we didn't even know it.” And that was really the seed and from that point forward, she established the museum in 1985 and by 1987, it was designated a historic site. And people have continued to come from all over the world, all 50 States, seven continents. They come speaking no English, but they just know, they know the words to those Motown songs and it is a music that unites them. It's a music that broke down barriers. It's a music that people celebrate and reflect on childhood. And so, there's something really powerful that continues to resonate with the music and the physical space where all of that music was born.

Erik Gensler: And being in your family, it's super personal. So, I'm curious to hear about you growing up with this in, perhaps, the background or foreground and how did that lead you to leading the institution?

Robin Terry: What's fascinating is this is the one thing I always told my grandmother I wouldn't do. (Laughs) Right?

Erik Gensler: (Laughs) Yeah.

Robin Terry: So, anybody who knew me in my twenties, thirties … You know, my grandmother's dream was that I would fall in love with her dream and I would want to run the museum and it was absolutely the one thing I didn't want to do. And I think that that's the case because when she was starting the museum, one, I didn't have a full appreciation of this history and what it has meant to people all over the world. I just didn't understand that. And two, as a young person growing up, my grandmother raised me. She was a co-grandparent to me when I lost my mother to breast cancer at age 15. So, I've been around the museum since its inception. My mom died in ‘84. The museum was founded in ’85. And back then, like, I had to be around it. While other kids were playing and doing things, my grandmother was making me walk people around the museum and tell them history stories, right (laughs)? So, I think at some level I resented that.

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Robin Terry: But fast-forward, I went off to school and then started my own career and it was in PR and marketing and enjoyed that very much. And then, around 2002, my grandmother had health issues and couldn't continue the work and there was sort of this passing of the torch moment that happened. And it was once I could sit in her seat and there was a very specific day when I was sitting there and this 21-year-old woman from Greece sent me an email and a 19-year-old young man from Japan … and they emailed me that same morning, thanking me for what we were doing to preserve this history out of the Hitsville house. And it was in that moment I realized the gravity of what this legacy was about, which, to answer your question, allowed me to appreciate not only the relationships that I understood as a kid with the artists as family, but to see them not just as like an extension of the family, but, “Wow.” Like, “They really did something big and important in the world and helped to change people's lives and bring them together.” So, full circle. It became something that I'm extremely passionate about.

Erik Gensler: So, your proximity to it almost … I don't want to say take made you take it for granted, but you didn't really recognize the enormity of what was happening in the place you spent so much time. That's remarkable.

Robin Terry: Without question. As a child, it was nothing to see Marvin Gaye, who in fact, his home … you know, this year we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the artwork on that album cover was actually photographed in the backyard of his home here in Detroit, on West Outer Drive and Monica. Well, when he came out of the home, my dad and I moved into the home.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Robin Terry: Well, it’s not my dad and I. My dad moved into the home, but I spent a lot of time in that home. And so, our families were very interconnected. Marvin Gaye married my grandmother’s sister, Anna Gordy Gaye.

Erik Gensler: Oh, wow.

Robin Terry: And so, to see those people, I saw them in … you know, as just regular people. Diana Ross, I saw as a regular person. Smokey Robinson, who's truly, you know, family. It's my uncle's best friend who's an uncle. You absolutely took for granted because you just saw them as humans, you know, but you didn't realize just how profoundly impactful their artistry was on the world.

Erik Gensler: And do you think it was really the recognition of … like, can you think back to a moment … well, you said that getting those emails from those folks really put that into perspective for you, that it was really bigger than you would ever even thought it was.

Robin Terry: Without question, it was that moment. And the truth is, I relive that moment every single time I go into the museum and there's somebody new that's coming through the museum. That's what I love about it, right? Cause it doesn't get old. If it were just my memories it might get old. But I see the way people respond to the space, to the nostalgia, to the inspiration of being in that physical space, standing in the footsteps of these music icons. I see people, particularly people of color, who are inspired by what Motown represented as an entrepreneurial venture and the way it represents excellence, Black excellence, in the world and on our cultural landscape. And that fuels you, you know, so, fortunately, I kind of get to relive that moment over and over through people who visit that space.

Erik Gensler: So, I understand you're in the midst of a major fundraising campaign. And I'm curious, what is your vision for the future of where you're going from Hitsville, USA, to how Motown Museum has evolved as an institution? Where it was, where it is and where it's going.

Robin Terry: So, the three quick things to understand is, we're sort of going from a historic house model to a, you know, nearly 50,000-square-foot campus celebrating the legacy of Motown. And the leap for us was just that: how do we go from these four walls that are so cherished and maintain that—right? Because that is our DNA. It's an authentic experience and authentic space—How do we do that and still make room to engage technology, still create room for training, sort of inspiring the next generation and really creating a more forward-leaning museum experience. And I like to think of it this way: my grandmother, when she founded Hitsville, really was creating a landing space, right? She wanted people to just land there, just come there, know that this history took place. You might even be inspired; likely, you will be. And then you go on, but just land there. And for us, I'm now looking at, how do we build on that and create a launch pad for people? So, I don't just want you to land there. I want this to launch you to a space that speaks to your potential in the world because that is what Motown was about. So, land there, get inspired there, and then let's activate something in you. And so, the campus is allowing us to do that because now you can get inspired through the tours and the storytelling around Motown, but then we have a space called Hitsville Next, which we're opening in the next month or so—I can't say it officially, the date—but our construction is complete and it's exciting, but this is more a training ground. So, it's a training ground for young talent. It's a training ground for aspiring entrepreneurs. So, now once you're inspired, you have a place to go and train and cultivate so tha that talent thrives. And then, lastly, we have a professional recording studio coming back in the space. So, now not only will folks who participate in the programming that we do have a chance to be inspired and get training, but they can actually put it to work in the industry. And that was important for us, that this become a real community hub for launching careers, launching inspiration. You know, if you don't do anything with it (laughs), but it's something that you aspire to achieve. We want to be the space where you can do that.

Erik Gensler: How was that process of going from the idea of a historic home? Like, what kind of planning and what was that “aha!” moment like that said, “Wow, this has to be more”? I mean, it's clearly powerful to go there and be there and share that space with those incredible icons and legends and to celebrate the history of what Motown means in America and Black culture and American culture. But how did you hit that moment that said, “Okay, for us to evolve, it has to be about evolution. It has to be about more.”

Robin Terry: There were a number of things. Physical space, it was that the demand was greater than we could serve as in our space. I mean, we turned people away constantly because we were so small. So, our physical footprint sort of dictated that. If you know the story of Motown, you know that my great-uncle, he started with the Hitsville house, but he ultimately acquired eight little houses on West Grand Boulevard. So, as he outgrew Hitsville, then he would, like, buy the next available house on the block, then they outgrow that and he’d buy the next. So, Motown records was literally, like, a corporation made out of eight little bitty houses on West Grand Boulevard that at one point had 450 employees. So, just kind of have that in your mind. So, the museum experience was just in Hitsville and one other house that's attached to it, so it was easy for us to … The footprint was very small and so, it was hard to serve as the demand, as I said. But we had acquired these other homes and so there was always the question of, “All right, how do we tell this full story? So, we know we need space, we have a collection with stories that people aren't hearing, how do we tell more stories?” And then, then the real game changer is that we knew there was also a generational gap and if we didn't evolve and figure out how to make this rich history inspiration that creates change, right? Like transformation, something has to happen from it … If we didn't figure that out, then as that generation would transition, we'd be left with a generation that couldn't benefit from all the rich philosophies and values systems and all of the excellence that was Motown. It would just die. And so, we knew we had to find a way to connect the bridge and it honestly seemed daunting at the beginning. And now, when I look at it, it's, you know … we've got Smokey Robinson getting ready to do a masterclass with students from our programs. We did an amazing recording with Paul Reiser and the artist, Kim, who is a recording artist today, in Studio A and Paul Reiser directed 21 members of the Symphony Orchestra in Studio A. So, there are these magical moments you can create that sort of bring the classic and the contemporary together, the past and present together, to make magic. And that's the kind of space we want it to be. And so, that has informed the entire campus. It's all about community. It's all about giving folks who are aspiring in this space a place to touch that history, connect, and still grow from it, learn from it, soak it up, and then achieve their own greatness.

Erik Gensler: Amazing. I love that. So, here you are. You have this amazing vision. You figured out what that vision is going to be. I mean, you talk about it and it's infectious. And so, you take this vision and then you have to fundraise, right?

Robin Terry: Yeah! (Laughs)

Erik Gensler: As the head of the Institute, you're the chief fundraiser (laughs), and then we have this pandemic. And so, I'm curious how the process of creating this vision and then fundraising for it, what have you learned? What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about fundraising? What have you learned about if you could do it better, what you would do differently? I know from conversations, you are a real growth mindset person. So, talk me through that.

Robin Terry: Well, I would tell you first and foremost, that's, like, a book (laughs).

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Robin Terry: If we want to do lessons learned, that's, like, a book. I could answer, obviously, so, you know, first thing I learned was that—and this is purely fundraising—love for Motown doesn't automatically translate to love for Motown Museum, writing a check, right? So, there was a notion when we came into this that, “Oh my God, everybody loves Motown.” I said, “Oh, we can do this in three years. Everybody loves Motown, right? We'll do dollar campaigns (laughs) and everybody will give a dollar.”

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Robin Terry: Like, it was so overly simplified in the beginning.

Erik Gensler: Right, right.

Robin Terry: And what I quickly learned was that we really had to create, A, an awareness that the museum was there, but we also had to create meaningful work that community saw value in. And for us, it's not just local community, it's national community, global community. They had to see value in the work that we were doing. And for us, our programs are seven years young, so we weren't in this space of doing the level of program we're doing now. It has grown very, very quickly and it's been really well received. So, we know we're doing the right thing and there was an appetite for it and folks are, they're receiving all of it well, but that was the first thing. We genuinely had to put in the work, create meaningful programming. It wasn't enough to just be a treasured historic space, but what value is that going to bring to the next generation and the generation after that? So, that's how we got into a lot of the heavy strategic planning work and programmatic work that we did with DeVos Institute and Lord Cultural Group. In terms of things personally that I've learned, I had to learn that just as the vision was expanding, the campus was expanding, I was expanding as a leader. My team was expanding—and not expanding in numbers, but in our own individual capacity, our own bandwidth. And that's been painful at times, right? It was important for me, as the leader, to give myself that permission to know, “You, too, are expanding and when you are stretched, there are pain points,” because prior to that, everything was succeed or fail, right? “We're going to succeed or fail, whether we're doing it right, or we're doing it wrong,” And know there was a reality that this leap we were taking, you're going to get charlie horse every now and then. You're going to pull a muscle every now and then.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Robin Terry: And that was just the reality. And so, once I could sit in that and I could give those same permissions to our team and we could give that to each other, it made a difference.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Robin Terry: And so, that, as an institution … Even now, when we get stretched, somebody will just say, “All right, we know we're expanding, right?”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Robin Terry: “We’re growing. Let's give ourselves a pass in this moment.” That was important.

Erik Gensler: And any institution's ability to grow, I think, is in a big way about the leader's ability to interpersonally.

Robin Terry: Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: I think you're … if you don't, you're fixed, and then that spirit passes along to the other leaders within the organization, but, like, what size game are you willing to play?

Robin Terry: Yeah, absolutely. And the key is that everybody … Once you allow that, then growth is organic. You know what I mean? It's a natural thing. So, we know, as we pile on programs, we'll say, “All right, we want to be thoughtful about this and how we do this. Let's take the time. Let's sit with this, this part we've never done before. Let's add this kind of expertise to make sure that we …” You're more thoughtful about the delivery because you're not just focused on, “We just gotta get that done,” right? It's, “We're growing. We understand that there are pieces of this we don't know, we're not expert at yet. We will be, but not yet.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and that's okay. You know, my dad's a psychiatrist and he was like, “With any growth, like, the thing we don't talk about is, there's loss.”

Robin Terry: Yes.

Erik Gensler: Like, you're leaving what you used to have and that's safe and as comfortable in that time.

Robin Terry: And it's … I mean, I will tell you this, too, as a leader, this is one of my favorite moments with my uncle, quite frankly. And I don't think I've ever told this story, but when they were doing Motown: The Musical, I went to a session in New York and I asked my uncle then, because I could feel a little tens- not tension, but I could feel that growth thing pulling on us as an organization because I wasn't sure everybody could actually make it to the next level but I had people who were really loyal. And one of the ha- this was one of the hardest things I had to do as a leader. I went to my uncle and I said, “Just tell me something.” I said, “What's more important to you, ability or loyalty?” And he immediately said, “Ability.” And I didn't expect that because loyalty is a really important part of our family dynamic and when I look at Motown, I see a lot of loyalty, right? And he said, “No, ability.” And I said, “Ability? I thought you'd say loyalty!” And he said, “No, ability.” He said, “Because anybody with ability will become loyal if you treat them well.”

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Robin Terry: He said, “But if they don't have the ability, they can't go to the next level with you and when you're in a space of evolving, you have to be willing to let go and bring people on that have what you need to go to the next level.” And he talked about Motown going from radio to television. He said, “There are people that couldn't go with me to television. There were people in television who couldn't go with me to film, people in film who couldn't go to Broadway.” And he said, “If you don't figure that out, you will suffocate the business and it will die.” That was important for me as a leader going through expansion to understand.

Erik Gensler: I'm curious to … there's just, there's so much to dig into in terms of the fundraising that you were doing and you said it wasn't how you automatically envision it, “Oh, Motown Museum is doing a fundraising campaign. I'll send in $5.” What ended up working? What was the process or who were the people that … Okay, that didn't work. As you went through this process, what did you learn did?

Robin Terry: So, what worked was getting behind a real plan. And that's what I'm saying … I say this to people all the time, I learned that just being passionate ain't enough (laughs), right?

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Robin Terry: We can all be very, very passionate about something, but at the end of the day, that didn't do it. It was having a real plan that we had invested in, not only with thought, but that we were passionate about, right? So, our donors had to know that what we were setting out to do was achievable. It was sustainable and that we weren't going to quit on it. That was important for them to understand. It was also important, what did work for us, was that once we had that, we were able to get ambassadors on board early, who could endorse the plan that we had put together and say, “This is important to this community. It's important to the cultural landscape.” Like, we needed people outside of ourselves who were influencers to be able to say that. And we were very fortunate that Ford Motor Company, and, like, UAW Ford came on board very early-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Robin Terry: … and like to the tune of $7 million between the two-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

Robin Terry: … because they believed in it because then what that began to do was create confidence throughout the funding community. And then, the same with foundations who came on board early, the William Davidson Foundation. And it was interesting, something really beautiful started to happen with the William Davidson Foundation gift because that is a foundation that gives almost a hundred percent to Jewish causes and to Israel, period. So, when we went to meet with their board—and they told us that right away, so I thought, “Well, why are we here?” (laughs)—but what they were interested in was a whole story around community and commonalities and neighborhoods within our geographic space, where largely Jewish communities, white Jewish communities, and African Americans had to co-exist and became reliant upon one another within community. And there was this beautiful story that started to manifest and they wanted to invest in that and they wanted to invest in the power of Motown music to bring people together and to unite us. So, when you ask the question, “What worked?” what's worked is that there's sort of this common ground and that the Motown story speaks to. There's a desire to have something on the planet that brings people together and unites them and brings them joy. We're hungry for that. And so, the funding community is looking for solutions, things that bring that back to our communities, and we just happen to be … Motown is a perfect solution. There's no other brand, music genre that has united people the way that particular brand has had the way to do it. And people respond to it out of that sense of emotion and joy and nostalgia and hope for the future. They're responding to it for those reasons, not because it's a cool physical building. Those aren’t the reasons.

Erik Gensler: That’s deep. So, we're recording this in February of 2021, about to be March of 2021, but February is Black History Month and after a brutal year, particularly for communities of color in 2020—and really, I mean, obviously throughout history, but particularly marked by everything that happened in 2020—and I'm curious, what is on your mind as the CEO of the Motown museum at this cultural moment?

Robin Terry: Another loaded question that could be a book (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (Laughs) I don't want to do the easy ones.

Robin Terry: Because what’s on my mind goes even beyond the month that we're sitting in. It is … you know, I think about what we have come through, not only with the pandemic, but with the Civil Rights Movement. I think of George Floyd, I think about just the level of divide in our country, and in considering all those things, what it says to me—and this is the conversation I had with my staff when we initially reopened—I said, “This is why we have to exist on the planet. This is the reason we go to work. We're going to work because this is a story that must be told in this moment about Black excellence. This is a moment that we must go back to work, because this is about the things that make us more alike than different, even though our skin colors are different. This is that moment where we remember that our unity is greater than our division. Like, this music and the history of this music, it helps us understand it in a way that politics can't, it's in a way that other things in our spaces just can't get us there. That's the power of music. It can sort of circumvent the soul. It can break barriers, racial barriers, in particular. Like all of that, music can get around and we happen to sit in a space where not only is the history something that we can share, but the music is something we can share at the same time. And so, that, when I sit in this space in this day and time, it's why cultural institutions have to exist— and not just ours, but cultural institutions around the world, to help us learn about one another and the value, the greater value that we all bring to this story called life.

Erik Gensler: And just the … how miraculous the entrepreneurial success of Motown was in the middle of the 20th century in a very otherwise racist country.

Robin Terry: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: The level of excellence that was required to break through against all the barriers and that it did more than breakthrough; it was like beyond anyone's wildest imagination of what success could look like. And I think it's interesting in this conversation talking about … like, I feel like the structural racism we live in is very much shaped by the media. Thinking about growing up with Motown playing, with the story you said about the Jewish community, having those touchpoints with Motown in an otherwise very white media landscape and white music landscape just change things and I think that's really remarkable.

Robin Terry: Motown is the story of the impossible being possible. And it just … it is absolutely, that is what it is because there's no way … There's nothing that was going on in society that would have supported or celebrated a young African-American man from the South (laughs) starting an independent record label out of a little house in Detroit, and that becoming, that ultimately becoming dubbed the sound of young America with young white boys and girls (laughs), teenagers, like, buying this music, celebrating this music, and making it this music that's now has been celebrated globally for over 60 years. Like, that's just … isn't supposed to happen (laughs).

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Robin Terry: Wasn't supposed to happen, right? But the fact is that it did, and it did because excellence was at the forefront. It did because, you know, as my uncle will tell you, he didn't set out to make Black music; he set out to make music for all people and Motown music spoke to those emotions that are real in all of us, no matter what our color. So, again, because that was the intention, it achieved exactly that. It moved people of all colors, all races, all socioeconomic backgrounds, because that's what the music was intended to do.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And it was led by Black people, which I think is like … it wasn't like it was like some white-led, LA-based, institution.

Robin Terry: No, a Black man and a Black family, with a Black family behind him … But, again, with a diverse company. The employees were diverse and his intention was to make music for all people. So, it just, it worked, it rose above whatever limitations or barriers society had set around it. It just rose above them.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. So, you've led this institution for how long?

Robin Terry: So, in this capacity, since 2015. So, I came on board in 2015 as the CEO to lead the expansion effort. I've been involved with the museum in leadership, both chairing the board since 2002, but I had other CEOs and directors over the years. But to lead this effort, our initial donor said, “Robin, if we're going to do this and help you do it, you have to leave the organization (laughs).” So, here I am.

Erik Gensler: And that's an amazing honor. Where do you look or who do you look to for leadership inspiration?

Robin Terry: Ooh, many places. My grandmother is one of the greatest inspirations in my life. The late Esther Gordy Edwards is just absolutely one of the greatest inspirations. And she inspires my vision for the future and a lot of the passion that I have. And then, there are women who … I've been very fortunate to be a part of some really special organizations with strong women in these kinds of roles, from my sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; the Links Organization; IWF, international Women's Forum. And so, I'm fortunate to have really strong women who are also compassionate and also are real and in this moment can have a real conversation about the challenges of leadership, let alone the challenges of leadership in a pandemic.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What is something that happened through the pandemic that you're, weren't, maybe, thrilled about happening at the time, but you're going to take with you moving forward? Like no one wanted this pandemic, no one, obviously … to even put aside the tragedy of it all, but like what it did for your institution that may have seemed at first, like, not great, but actually it turned out to be something you're gonna take with you?

Robin Terry: There's no question it would be programming and the way we engage our community. Starting out a historic home, every event, every activity was very campus-focused. Everything happened in our space and our intention was to get people to Hitsville (laughs) so they could see it, right? My grandmother's intention … And this whole pandemic, of course, forced us to pivot to a virtual environment. And what we've discovered there has just been like Christmas every day. I mean, it's just, there's so much potential. We just hosted an event with … there's a group called DAYBREAKER that hosts this amazing dance party in the middle of the daytime for people all over the world. I don't know if you or any of your podcast listeners have done it. It's amazing. And AARP was a sponsor and they invited us to participate. We threw a Motown Party Saturday with over 33,000 people and crashed the internet.

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Robin Terry: The largest party that DAYBREAKER had had in the history of DAYBREAKER. So, there are moments like that that we will forever continue to activate our virtual spaces. And now, what it has shown us is, we're not limited by the four walls that are Hitsville, but we do education programs now with kids in, you know, multiple states and it's just expanded our world so much.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, wonderful. So, we've come to your final question. That went so quickly! (Laughs)

Robin Terry: (Laughs)

Erik Gensler: The question that we ask at the end is called our “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you could broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of thousands of arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them right now?

Robin Terry: The advice I would provide to them right now is, in spite of this pandemic moment, keep dreaming bigger and higher and know that, you know, the opportunity will be, it will be met. It will be met. It will not be an empty promise. And it's … a lot of us thought, “Oh, we can't fundraise during a pandemic,” and, “Maybe our vision should be put on hold.” Absolutely not. Keep reaching, keep going. It will be met. When you launch that into the universe, it will be met and supported as it should be.

Erik Gensler: Robin, it was such an honor and pleasure to speak with you.

Robin Terry: Such a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for this.