Meet Terri Jordan, Curator of Exhibits

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

One of the most important roles within any museum is that of the exhibit curator. They decide which exhibits go up and when, and which pieces of the museum’s collection are accessible to the public at any given time. So, what is it like working as an exhibit curator in one of Tennessee’s largest multi-interest museums? Get to know the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s own Curator of Exhibits, Terri Jordan.   

Who is Terri Jordan? 

Terri Jordan has been the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s exhibit curator for 20 years. An artist in her own right, Terri has a great eye for what looks good in a gallery. She’s exhibited her own work across the country, and is most known for her paintings of women and dreamy park landscapes. Some of her more notable natural subjects have been Rotary Park and Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, as well as Cheekwood in Nashville. 

Originally from New York, Terri came to Clarksville years ago with her husband to be close to his parents, and they decided to stay. She and her husband have one son, Garrick. Terri prides herself on making connections and sustaining relationships with artists and collectors in order to keep our Museum’s galleries full of interesting new exhibits that keep visitors coming back. 

Describe life in New York City for you during the 1980s. 

“It was an interesting time; it was a lot of fun. I went to FIT, which is the Fashion Institute of Technology. I worked for a fashion designer for a while after that. It’s just a very expensive place to live, so when you’re working three or four jobs just to pay the rent, it gets a little tiring. But it was great! It was great to experience things. Any hour of the day, you could go do something. Lots of art everywhere, which was fun. Easy to meet people. I really loved it. It’s a whole different city now, but it was great in the 80s.” 

What does a curator of exhibits do? 

“I am in charge of the team that installs exhibits. We do changes every two to three months. I schedule the exhibits, I create the exhibits, I find the traveling exhibits and coordinate with them. I’m always working with artists, museums and galleries.”

What do you enjoy most about working at the Museum? 

“Probably working with all the different artists and the people I’ve met in the industry over the years. It’s always fun to bring something new in, and to just be able to share that. 

The great thing about us is being a general museum, we can do everything. Besides the artists, we deal with collectors. We’ve gotten to know some really good collectors, bringing things in that people wouldn’t get to see anywhere else. Like the Mapping Wars exhibit we just had, that was all private collection, so it’s the only time that people would get to see those physical maps that were made by hand in the 1800s, and things like that. That’s the fun part of being here.”

What’s your best memory working at the Museum? 

“Ned Crouch was my first Museum Director and we had a much smaller staff then, there was a real sense of family with the staff. We were all really close and spent a lot of time together, so those were always great memories. And every time we have a really great experience with an artist or with a show, it’s always exciting.

I think more than being a memory, I am most proud that I have been creating and celebrating women artists since 2010 with annual Women’s History Month exhibitions. While women are getting more equal billing for their work in the past ten years or so, I would say that we are one of a few general or non-specific art museums that has done a conscious focus on that topic for so many years.”

What do you hope to achieve for visitors? 

“Always exposing people to new perspectives and letting them see different things. I’m constantly planning things out – the exhibit coming in, I want to be completely different than the exhibit that was in that space right before. So, there’s always a sense of newness, there’s always a sense of something different.”

Take a look at the exhibits Terri has put together for you at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center, open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sundays from 1 to 5pm. Terri is always present in the galleries during exhibit receptions that celebrate new exhibits, and if you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of her at work putting new exhibits together during the less busy open hours. 

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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