A Global Conversation with Jillian Patricia Pirtle, CEO of the Marian Anderson Museum

By Peak Johnson 
Global Philadelphia had the opportunity to speak with Jillian Patricia Pirtle, who is being awarded the 2021 Globy for Heritage and Preservation Leadership. In addition to being the CEO of the Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society, Patricia Pirtle is a professional stage and opera artist.
According to the museum’s website, Patricia Pirtle received her formal training from the High School of Creative and Performing Arts where she majored in Vocal Music Performance and minored in Instrumental Violin and Dramatic Performance. She received her BFA Degree in Musical Theater and Operatic Performance from the University of the Arts in 2004. While attending the University, Patricia Pirtle was formally inducted into the Marian Anderson Society as a Marian Anderson Scholar and Classical Vocalist.
Marian Anderson is an Artistic and Humanitarian world figure, was known as the great lady from Philadelphia.
Peak Johnson: For those who might not know, how important is Marian Anderson to the city of Philadelphia?
Jillian Patricia Pirtle: Marian Anderson spans as a beacon of history, of hope, of artistry, strength, and perseverance representing our great city of Philadelphia. To the nation and the world, Marian Anderson stands as an example of grit, strength, and determination. Having a wonderful dream and having so many obstacles placed in her way, not because of any fault of her own, but based upon the color of her skin and meeting all of those obstacles with great faith and hard work to overcome those discriminatory challenges. Marian Anderson stands the test of time as a symbol of hope, of humanity, and of a magnanimous external vision that we call can aspire to. 
Someone that we can look to as a great Philadelphia success story, a treasure, and I think that to not acknowledge Marian Anderson’s life and her great legacy is a missed opportunity and quite a shame. 
PJ: How did you get involved with the museum?
JPP: I became a Marian Anderson Scholar artist at the age of 13 under the direction of our beloved later founder, Lady Blanche Burton-Lyles who was Marian Anderson’s protege. She founded the museum when Marian Anderson passed away in 1993 and purchased the home and sought to start the preservation of that sacred space from historic designations with the city of Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania, and the United States National Department of Interior. 
When she did all of those things and reinvigorated the Marian Anderson Scholar artist program that Marian Anderson started in 1950, she selected very carefully and wisely young budding artists who had the ambition of becoming the next Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Todd Duncan, and such.
PJ: What was it that interested you in learning more about Marian Anderson?
JPP: Marian Anderson has always been a symbol to me of a woman, an African American, an artist to aspire to be. She was, and is, a great reflection of beauty, grace, and dignity, and someone, despite the odds and challenges, never gave up and still believed in her dream. That is certainly something that has always inspired me and always drew me to her life, legacy, and story.
PJ: The last time that we spoke, you were fundraising to have needed repairs done to the museum. Could you give us an update?
JPP: We had an official condition assessment report done with the partnership of Preservation of Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and through this historic assessment report, a thorough exam of the Marian Anderson Museum was done top to bottom to see all of the damages that were done to the museum and everything that it would take to do a full repair and restoration to get the museum to its original beautiful glory.
That total number is close to half a billion dollars, which is quite a big sum. So we are actively trying to fundraise to get it there, plus talk to contractors and everything that is needed to get this done, which is so necessary. 
PJ: Can you talk a little more about virtual touring and the concert series?
JJP: Absolutely, so we are continuing with our virtual touring of this year’s exhibit, Marian: The American Story, which gives an open eye view to Marian Anderson’s life as an artist and humanitarian through the lens cap of the American historical experience of which she faced and her story. Virtually, you get to look at that on the different areas of the museum that were not damaged to that effect and you see the beautiful artifacts and get her story up close and personal and you still get the live performances, just virtually. So it is quite the experience, we know it’s not the same as in person, but it is still a remarkable offering. 
PJ: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a CEO of the museum?
LPP: The most challenging aspect has been twofold, one has certainly been, and this has been from the beginning of the museum inception and just when I was just a mere scholar artist and nothing else, support. Support for this historical landmark and cultural institution is essential and the fact that it is lacking so much is quite sad and disappointing and would be discouraging, especially to a young person.
But also as a millennial, the ability for people to understand, respect, and take notice that as a young artist and as a young historian, I am here to carry the legacy to tread the path that was laid before me so that we can keep history alive. So that we can keep the cultural arts alive so that we can keep the story being told and moving forward for future generations to come. 
Everything revolves around support and it would be an amazing, wonderful gift if the Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society could truly be embraced and supported.
PJ: What would you tell a young person who has taken a liking to Marian Anderson or others from her life and just can’t find that support to learn more about them? 
LPP: The first thing to do is to start with the Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society because we give the most in-depth and comprehensive look into her life and legacy. The second is to hold fast to your dream and never give up because there will be a million naysayers and doubters in your life and you will face remarkable challenges and obstacles 
But the key is to never give up, the keys to continue to believe in your talent, your abilities, and your gifts and to keep striving to keep fighting and to keep believing. We as a generation, as millennials ought to want to band together and support one another and show as young leaders a great example of what it means to support one another to community build. So that preservation will move forward throughout our lifetime and generations to come. We don't gain anything through non-support and negativity, but we gain everything through being supportive of one another and lifting each other up, and helping.