Hunter Museum director Virginia Anne Sharber shares her best business habit

Photography by Olivia Ross / Hunter Museum of American Art Executive Director Virginia Anne Sharber
Photography by Olivia Ross / Hunter Museum of American Art Executive Director Virginia Anne Sharber

Virginia Anne Sharber holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Tennessee School of Law and practiced law for 25 years with Miller & Martin, PLLC before joining the Hunter Art Museum in 2015 as its sixth executive director. Her leadership has brought about changes such as admitting children and youth for free, partnering with community organizations on programs for youth and families, and helping design programs to better engage more diverse audiences.

She has also brought skills and experience from serving on numerous boards on the arts (such as Allied Arts, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, and Chattanooga Public Art), women's issues (such as Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute and the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga), education (such as Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy) and other community centered issues (such as the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Memorial Health Care Foundation, Metropolitan YMCA, United Way and RiverCity Company). Sharber is currently serving as the 109th president of the Downtown Rotary Club, on the board of the Chattanooga Area Chamber and as a member of the Chattanooga Public Art Commission.

What is your best business habit?

Listening hard and trying to understand the audience's perspectives and objectives, whether that audience is a client, a visitor, a supporter or a board member. Taking a customer-oriented approach yields invaluable insights and avenues for problem-solving and relationship-building. This habit served me well in my career as an attorney and continues to be invaluable as I lead the Hunter Museum.

How did you discover or develop it?

As an attorney at Miller & Martin before I came to the Hunter, listening to client's objectives and understanding their perspectives was critical to developing strategies to meet those objectives. Asking lots of questions and really listening to not only what was said, but also what was left unsaid, resulted in better outcomes for clients; and I've found this to be equally relevant in my work on the boards of local non-profits.

How has it improved your work and/or personal life?

Always focusing on "my audience" has allowed me to be more responsive to big picture changes at the organizational level. Rather than immediately assuming I know what my audience needs, taking the time to ask questions and listen so that I better understand perspectives different from my own greatly elevates the chances for a successful (and more prompt) solution to any issue. For example, getting input from and involving target audiences in developing programs organically builds those audiences much more effectively than designing programs without listening to audience input. Similarly, surveying guests and listening to staff about their safety concerns helped our senior leadership team develop policies and protocols that enabled the museum to reopen smoothly after a 4-month shutdown during Covid.

How might others apply it?

Listening to others and knowing your audience are skills that anyone, in any field, can apply to provide more value to customers, clients or whomever they're trying to serve. Whether your business is law or medicine, retail or tourism, understanding the goals and objectives of clients, patients, customers or visitors is the first step in creating solutions that meet their needs.


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