“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been,” has been the guiding phrase for the life and work of Raven Cook. Originally from Little Rock, Cook has dedicated her life to ensuring that all people learn and grow from the discipline of African American history. Using educational lessons, visual arts, music, and several other resources, Cook has sought not only to educate, but to empower all people to recognize their power and their potential to create change.
Cook worked as Associate Museum Educator for Outreach and Community Tours at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Through her time at Crystal Bridges, Raven led the effort to create a museum coalition to focus on inclusion, developed standards-based tours on African American history and art, facilitated multiple teacher professional developments focused on African American history, and worked as an educator for exhibitions such as "Soul of A Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power," "Hank Willis Thomas: All things being Equal" and "Nick Cave: Until." In 2021, Raven was inducted into the Harlem Studio Museum Educator Practicum Cohort.
Along with her numerous achievements in the museum industry, Raven has worked tirelessly in her community in organizations including the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and the Fayetteville African American Advisory Council. In 2014, Raven developed the organization Foundations: Black History Educational Programming, where she taught a survey program for six years in African American history called "Inspire 365: A Journey Through the Black Experience," hosted a weekly radio segment called "Reflections in Black," hosted a podcast called "Beyond the Veil" and hosted weekly book clubs focused on Black literature.
Raven is excited to return to her home city of Little Rock and to be a part of the incredible work happening at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center to educate all people on the rich legacy of Black Arkansans.
As a director of education, what is your vision for your organization and our community?
My vision for my organization is to create an education department that pushes museum culture forward around inclusion, equity and accessibility. I would like to see education in museums continue to examine the way that we understand, engage and empower diverse communities. I would like to see Arkansans and people from across the country come to the museum and know they are not only appreciated but that they are heard, loved and safe.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career so far is a tough question because I have had so many. I think the most important moment for me as a Black woman was teaching in "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" at Crystal Bridges in 2018. The feeling that I felt in that space of awe, safety, inspiration and love is something I now want to push out in the world. Soul of a Nation for me was like a bright candle with an incredible flame. The flame consumed me and changed how I walk, talk and teach. Today, I move through the earth trying to be as bright a light as that show was for me.
Tell us the most meaningful piece of career or life advice you have received.
The most important career advice I have received is to make sure that my words, practice and posture align when teaching. The way I move in front of an object, stand with students in educational spaces and how I speak all these things must be in alignment.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and career?
My parents are my biggest influence. The commitment they made to helping me love my Blackness made me who I am. The transition into this role as director of education is not one that just impacts me; my parents have been by my side the entire time. I speak to both my mom and dad each day (multiple times a day) and love them for all they have imparted into me.
What experiences most shaped your path as a leader?
The question is interesting because of the word “leader.” I want to interrogate that word and its construction. I want to acknowledge the complexity I feel in that word “leader,” but further, the weight of that word. I think about leadership in this consideration of power and access. I’d say the times where I was most disempowered were probably the times that shaped me to exist in a position of leadership. The murders of Black men and women in media because of police violence has deeply shaped me and pushed me to take up space and stand.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself as you were starting out?
The advice I would’ve given myself would be to recognize the power of visual arts and the role of Black artists. Art is a powerful resource for engaging in conversation, and the way people innovate and push boundaries just feels like something much larger than me that I can, for a moment, hold.
How do you like to de-stress after a difficult day/week?
I watch "Arrested Development" on Netflix every night and laugh! On hard days, I love to listen to hip-hop, roll the windows of my car down and sing loud. I do this as a grounding exercise! I also love photography and try to capture images that I feel passionate about, and I will print them and write poetry around the image.