A Q&A with Lindsey Baker, Executive Director of Maryland Humanities

August 3, 2020

We wanted the chance for Marylanders to get to know Lindsey Baker, our new Executive Director, a little better. August 3 was her first day with us. Read our press announcement about Lindsey here

We are also hosting a virtual “meet-and-greet” on September 24 with Lindsey in conversation with Yolanda Vazquez. Learn more.

A headshot of a white woman with brown, curly hair past her shoulders wears a pink blouse and dark gray cardigan. In the background, slightly blurry, is a tree, grass, and pathway, and a bit of sky.
Image by Mitro Hood Photography

Q: What was your introduction to an affinity for the humanities? Can you talk about a time early in your life when you really engaged with a humanities field?

A: When I was younger, I always had a book in my hands. I devoured books and was known to bring books with me everywhere, even reading at the dinner table. I lost myself in the stories I read, often looking around me with surprise to discover my world was still there.

Q: How have the humanities been meaningful to you personally?

A: In some ways, I’ve used the humanities as a tool. I look to the humanities to open my eyes, to help me understand the world beyond my own experience. I’m particular in the books, films, and media I choose now. I’m looking to build a wider understanding of lives that don’t look like mine and that is reflected in what I choose to read, watch, and listen to.

Q: What drew you to Maryland Humanities? What are you hoping to bring to the organization?

A: I’ve been a partner and fan of Maryland Humanities for over a decade. I know well the impact the organization has statewide, especially for smaller organizations. When I heard that Maryland Humanities would be focused on racial equity work in the near future, it felt like a perfect fit.

Maryland Humanities has a strong staff, board, and history of serving the Maryland community. They have been doing great work for years. I am hoping to bring a fresh lens to the organization. My work as a non-profit leader has always been focused on expanding narratives to be more inclusive, building organizational capacity, creating strong partnerships, and asking difficult questions. I hope to lead Maryland Humanities in doing all of these things through a racial equity lens, always considering how we can have the greatest impact across the state while also doing the internal work that is necessary.

Q: Why are the humanities important in this moment? Are there current events that have highlighted that importance?

A: Humanities are essential to our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world we live in. It sounds cliché to say it, but now, more than ever, we need to open ourselves up to understanding lives and perspectives different from our own.  2020 is not pulling punches.

We are living through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the worst pandemic in one hundred years, and the largest civil rights movement in American history. It would be easy to turn inwards, to think about these events only within the context of our own experiences and our own realities.

But engaging with the humanities allows us to look up. To look up and survey the world around us. To consider that our own life is just that—one life. And the lives and experiences of those around us are very different.

To those who watched a public lynching in Minneapolis, George Floyd’s murder was indefensible. But what came next became a litmus test of sorts. And those without the context for understanding the protests struggled to empathize with the movement. Utilizing humanities in this moment—so we can understand the history of Civil Rights movements in America beyond what we learned in school, so we can hear the voices of Black leaders seeking change, so we can get a glimpse into lives that may not mirror our own experience—this would help those with no personal experience with police brutality better understand an all too common experience in the lives of Black Americans.

Q: What activities do you participate in outside of work? What do you enjoy about them?

A: Outside of work, I am a very active person. I try to be outdoors as much as possible. We recently purchased a canoe, so I have added paddling to my normal activities of hiking, playgrounds, running/walking, gardening, and anything else that gets us outside. I’ve always felt happier and re-energized after spending time outside, and I’m happy that is something my husband and I have been able to share with our kids.

Although I have not been able to play recently due to COVID, I normally play a lot of soccer. Before kids, I played 6-7 days a week, but have slowed down to 2 or 3 nights. The beauty of the game, the challenge to always evolve as a player, and the friendships I find on the field are all deeply meaningful to me. Soccer may be the one time in life when my mind truly stops running and finds an inner calm—even more than when I do yoga!

Q: Could you talk about your relationship to Maryland?

A: I’ve always had a deep affinity for Laurel and Prince George’s County since making it my home in 2008. I have #PGPride and love being a part of the county. My work in the last two years has taught me quite a bit about Howard and Baltimore counties and the differences between the counties as well as the commonalities. Being with one of thirteen Heritage Areas in the state, I also learned a bit about the various areas around the state through the lens of heritage tourism.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be the Executive Director of a statewide non-profit and my relationship with various parts of the state. I feel a close connection with the Eastern Shore and peninsula, because I am from Delaware and know that area well. Central Maryland has been my home for many years, so I feel like I understand PG, Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, and Montgomery counties well. I look forward to learning more about the parts of Maryland I don’t have a deep personal experience with such as Southern and Western Maryland.

Q: What is your favorite book and movie (or TV show) you have read and watched lately? Why?
A: I recently binge-watched Pose. The show is set in the 1980s and focused on ballroom culture in New York. I heard about the show while watching Disclosure, where Pose was mentioned several times as a step forward in the depiction of transgender people on screen. This show was great! The story lines were interesting and the ballroom scenes were beautiful. Now I’m waiting for the next season to hit Netflix.

I recently read two books aimed at young adult audiences. I had bought them for my daughter, who is 3, but didn’t realize they were actually novels so a little above her level. The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz is about two cousins who leave Guatemala to avoid threats from a gang. My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (actress from Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black) is about her life after her family was deported. It was interesting to read these books back to back because they highlight the diversity of the “immigrant experience” in America, even within the Latinx community. 

Q: If you could have coffee with one figure from history, who would it be and why?

A: Harriet Tubman. I don’t feel like I learned a lot about her in school, but I visited the new Visitor Center in Dorchester County last summer with my family. In preparation I listened to the audio tour. While there, we picked up several children’s books. And I watched the movie about her when it came out.

After hearing so many others tell her story, I would love to hear from her. I’m particularly interested in hearing from her what it was like bringing people through the eastern shore landscape to freedom. And I think it would be fascinating to talk to her about the fact that her story is now a major tourism draw for Maryland.

Q: Tell us a fun, funny, or quirky fact or story about yourself.

A: I have two sisters who I love dearly. Both are teachers, one in California, and one at a KIPP school in Anacostia. My mom worked for school districts for almost her entire career. So I am the odd ball, the only one who hasn’t worked in a school, although my work has often intersected with education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on our blog do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Maryland Humanities or our funders.

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