Don Hardin Spearheads the Construction of the National Museum of African American Music

Don Hardin (Image: Flowers Communications Group)

The opening of the National Museum of African American Music is scheduled to take place this Labor Day Weekend in the heart of downtown Nashville. 

BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Don Hardin, founder of the Don Hardin Group and project manager of the construction project. During the conversation, he expressed the importance of having black-owned businesses involved in projects of this magnitude and involving creative professionals to help complete them.

Tell us about your involvement in the upcoming construction of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) and when do you anticipate completion of the project?

Working on the National Museum of African American Music has been a labor of love. Don Hardin Group was hired by the museum’s executive board because they needed someone dedicated to the business of design, fabrication, and construction of the facility and its components. Our team ensures the vision is carried out through the complex coordination of architects, exhibit designers, and general contractors. Music lovers from across the world can expect to experience the museum when it opens Labor Day weekend.

What is the Don Hardin Group and what projects have you participated in recently?

Since opening in the fall of 2000, Don Hardin Group has had the fortune of working on several high-profile projects that now provide many uses to the general public. We value the use of fundamental construction management tools and find ways to implement new technology as often as possible. As project manager and as a general contractor, our projects and clientele include the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Nashville, Music City Center, Hospital Corporation of America, The Cal Turner Family Center at Meharry Medical College, First Tennessee Baseball Park, Nissan North America, and the Metropolitan Nashville Airport to name a few. 

How important is this NMAAM project in terms of diversity and for black-owned firms?

The commitment that NMAAM has made to ensure the project leads with African American businesses cannot be overstated. Throughout my 30-year career, it is rare to find African American construction firms that thrive in the industry and pass down their expertise to younger generations to make their own. Our effort is targeted at creating a balance in the attrition rates of black professionals in construction.

The NMAAM project has allowed black firms to excel in the industry in a way that we have always dreamed of; the collective training and talent of black architects, interior designers, general contractors, and project managers are on full display here. I would also highlight project architect, Harold Thompson; interior designer, Donna Gilliam; and construction team, Mark Deathridge, Rigor Ligon, Mark Campbell, and Ed Henley–who comprise Euphony Four–as some of the partnering African American-owned firms that are key to the success of the NMAAM project.

Today, on the NMAAM construction site, nearly every person who has a major role is black; and each of these men and women are driven, highly skilled, and being given the opportunity to grow in their position. We believe that this type of inclusion will help to change the landscape of construction in this country.

What would you suggest to someone who wants a career in project management and/or construction? 

First, I tell every interested person to pursue construction for the long-term rewards and not for short-term gratification. It is a risky business, and you must learn to manage the risks. There are so many types of projects that require different approaches, so you will never know everything there is to know about construction. Always be proactive and a very committed teammate who shows enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Finally, learn the art of developing a project schedule because you will need this at every level in this profession. A schedule helps the team to visualize the end of the project and then it forces you to fill in the blanks with the who, what, and how that brings a project to life over time.

What do you think is the most important thing you’re gaining from this experience with this project for NMAAM?

In general, I have always thought that construction projects are a lot of fun to work on. The nature of the National Museum of African American Music definitely adds some elements to that fun. Our philosophy is that with building a museum, you’re designing and building from the inside out when it comes to satisfying the requirements that make a museum engaging.

What has been most rewarding to my team is finding the connections in the music we enjoy today to the influence of African Americans over the years and across all genres. In various conversations from our project meetings, we have seen a diverse array of people all share fond stories of their love of black artists like Marvin GayePrince, and B.B. King. This is inspiring because you can see people from all walks of life united under a common love for music.

As contractors, we are always excited about the outcome of a project because of all the effort resulting in a finished brick and mortar structure. On this project, what excites me is creating a place for culture to thrive.

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