THNOC CEO and President Priscilla Lawrence

Priscilla Lawrence, longtime president/chief executive officer of The Historic New Orleans Collection, has announced she will retire at the end of June 2019.

Lawrence joined THNOC in 1980 and assumed the president/CEO position in 2000, during which time she has steadfastly led the organization in its efforts to preserve and share the art and culture not only of the Greater New Orleans region, but also of Louisiana and the Gulf South. Under her direction, THNOC increased its physical space with the acquisition, restoration and renovation of several historic French Quarter properties to accommodate future needs.

In April 2019, the newest star in THNOC’s crown, the Seignouret-Brulatour Building, opened to the public. A $38 million project, this exhibition center at 520 Royal St. contains 36,000 square feet of space, an expanded gift shop, a visitor center and a museum café. The ambitious project marries 21st-century technology and a multi-purpose, contemporary rear wing with the historical appointments of the front building.

This space, former home of WDSU, complements the flagship location at 533 Royal St. and the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres St., expanding THNOC’s footprint in the French Quarter to 100,000 square feet. In addition to its physical expansion during Lawrence’s tenure, THNOC has also increased its staff to 130 and reports more than 60 volunteers to accommodate the ever-growing programs and services in three primary areas: exhibitions, research, and publishing.

A pivotal point in Lawrence’s career was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Intent on protecting the rare museum objects, Lawrence and her team reached out to the Alexandria Museum of Art to relocate key items. In September 2005, just days after the storm, THNOC staff, with the help of Alexandria’s Sheriff’s Office and members of the Louisiana State Police, made two trips into a locked-down New Orleans. Manuscripts, library items, and visual materials were securely transported for safekeeping to the Alexandria Museum of Art, where they remained until all municipal services were restored to THNOC’s buildings in New Orleans.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, Lawrence focused on preserving the past for a brighter future. On October 11, 2005, The Historic New Orleans Collection became the first New Orleans area museum to reopen after the storm. Five months later, on March 14, 2006, THNOC unveiled the city’s first major exhibition since the storm, Common Routes: St. Domingue • Louisiana, which was supported internationally and included loans from public and private collections in North America and Europe. 

In August 2008, Priscilla led THNOC staff to host a sell-out New Orleans Antiques Forum, the first of its kind for the city, which is the second largest antiques market in the country. The annual event continues to attract nationally renowned speakers and typically sells out as soon as registration opens. 

In 2015, THNOC presented the city’s first exhibition exploring its legacy as the country’s largest slave market. Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808–1865 drew record attendance for the institution and furthered understanding of a painful and difficult aspect of local history. The exhibition went on to receive major grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, among other organizations, and recognition from the American Association for State and Local History. The full exhibition traveled to four sites and is currently on view at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.

One of the most sought-after and respected community influencers, Lawrence has served on numerous boards and commissions throughout her career, most notably co-chairing last year’s Cultural and Historical Committee for the Tricentennial of the City of New Orleans with Sybil Morial. Together they strived to recognize the diversity and complicated histories of the city’s past through a variety of tricentennial initiatives, including a four-day symposium and the launch of New Orleans slave trade markers and a related app with a walking tour.

Lawrence has received the title of Chevalier in the Order of the Arts and Letters from the French Minister of Culture and Communication, three Woman of the Year awards from New Orleans City Business and was inducted into its Hall of Fame. She has won the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2009 Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities, and has led The Historic New Orleans Collection to receive a 2008 Community Arts Award from the Arts Council of New Orleans, the 2011 Attraction of the Year Award from the Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, plus numerous accolades, grants, and honors for its architectural preservation efforts, published works, and exhibitions.

Vice President/Deputy Director Daniel Hammer will succeed Priscilla Lawrence as THNOC president/CEO effective July 1, 2019. 

The full press release is available in THNOC's online newsroom