While perhaps not quite a technical term in the museum industry, Terrie Rouse knows an “awe moment” when she sees it.
It’s an experience that stops you in your tracks, perhaps makes you forget to exhale and brings to mind just one word: “Wow.”
As a recognized visitor services expert and self-described museum buff, Rouse, who soon will be handed the keys to the Capitol Visitor Center, already has scouted out several probable locations for awe moments in the 580,000-square-foot facility.
They weren’t hard to find.
“The best visitor moment is going to be that first 500 people who come at the beginning of the day,” Rouse said in an interview last week. “Where you come in and look into that grand hall there and the sunlight is beaming through. … You look over and say, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
By hiring Rouse as chief executive officer for visitor services last week, the Architect of the Capitol’s office hit one of the first major milestones on the operational side of the CVC.
Although the Architect will be ultimately responsible for the CVC, Congressional leadership officials created the CEOVS post in March as they began planning for the administration of a facility that is expected to open next fall. Rouse will be charged with long-term planning, overseeing day-to-day operations of the CVC, serving as the facility’s point person when interacting with leadership and oversight committees, and will have responsibility for the CVC’s yearly budget. She will be an outside spokeswoman for the new center, and the Capitol Guide Service also will fall under her supervision.
For a project that has dealt with many highly publicized challenges, the operational challenges facing Rouse are more subtle.
“Every person who comes into the CVC needs to feel welcomed, and they need to feel engaged because those are the elements that will allow them to gather the other things we want them to remember,” Rouse explained. “We want them to remember why we do what we do in the Capitol, why the House and the Senate operate in the way they do. … From an academic standpoint you want everybody to come out of the CVC, no matter what experience they have, remembering what their role is as a citizen.”
“I am very impressed with Terrie’s knowledge, energy and passion for her work,” acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said in a release last week. “Her experience as a museum professional, coupled with her work with non-profit and government agencies, gives her the unique qualifications necessary to prepare the CVC to receive its first visitors next fall and be the first-class visitor experience it was designed to be.”
Rouse, who will join the AOC’s office in September, currently is executive vice president and director of museums for Kansas City’s historic Union Station, a popular 900,000-square-foot tourist and commercial destination in Missouri.
A native Ohioan, Rouse has lived in 13 cities throughout her life, and her parents taught her from an early age to take in the history and culture that her surroundings offered.
“It’s part of that mode of exploration you get into when you live in different parts of the country,” she said.
Prior to her employment at Union Station, Rouse worked at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the New York Transit Museum and the Children’s Museum of Maine. She also served as executive director of the Atlanta Ballet.
“When I lived in New York I used to get on a train, come to Washington, check into a hotel just to go visit museums for two days, just to see how people do what we do,” she said. “I like to be a fly on the wall in galleries often because you really want to hear what people are saying and not saying about what they are looking at.”
Last week, lawmakers who have oversight of the CVC were quick to praise Rouse’s hiring.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said her boss “is very pleased that [Rouse] has accepted this post and feels that she truly has the skills to do a great job with the CVC.”
“This appointment is timely and very important,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) who serves as ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “I look forward to meeting Terrie Rouse and working with her to see this beautiful expansion fully realized for the American people.”
Wamp currently is leading a much-publicized push for a name change to the CVC’s Great Hall, which Rouse described as the most awe-inspiring space in the CVC. Wamp and several other Members have argued that Emancipation Hall is a more fitting name for the space not only because it avoids confusion with the Great Hall in the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building but also because it would be a fitting tribute to the many slaves who were used in the building of the Capitol. It is estimated that such a name change at this point in the project would cost an additional $250,000.
Rouse said last week that she hasn’t yet had time to form an opinion on the name-change issue. But she did praise Congress’ work last year to create a task force, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), to find a way to recognize the contribution of those slave laborers.
“What I do think the task force is doing is the right thing, which is to examine how to best acknowledge the people who were enslaved … their role as artisans, crafts people, engineers, architects in creating the Capitol,” Rouse said. “That’s a very positive thing and very good historical thing.”