Born just outside Helena, Arkansas, in 1974, Madyun was the eldest of three sons. His mother worked as a paralegal. His father published what was at the time eastern Arkansas’s only Black newspaper, the Community Consultant. Madyun recalls pedaling around town on his bicycle selling copies.
As a teen, Madyun worked at the public library, where his interest in the humanities grew thanks to a high school English teacher who worked alongside him. Their friendship was an unlikely one, a Black adolescent and a white man more than twice his age, but they bonded over their passion for history, and after Madyun enrolled at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, he eventually changed his major from business to history.
During one summer break, Madyun worked on an oral history project exploring the storied pasts of the Arkansas and Mississippi deltas. It opened his eyes to the history he hadn’t learned in school.
“A lot of white people knew more about my history than I did,” Madyun says, “and the fact that I come from a town in an area that produced a lot of famous blues and rockabilly and country musicians. I knew nothing about that.”
In addition to producing musical legends such as soul singer Al Green, blues harmonica player James Cotton, and country artist Conway Twitty, the region, Madyun came to learn, is rich in Black Civil War history.
“I’m like, this is a remarkable area,” he recalls thinking. “So my curiosity started there.”
After college, Madyun’s curiosity led him to a job as a curator and historian for the Department of Arkansas Heritage. He went on to become the first executive director of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis. Later, he picked up a handful of advanced degrees: an MFA in English, an MA in history, and a doctorate of management in organizational leadership.
Then in 2021, Madyun landed at Florida Humanities in St. Petersburg.
“I consider myself a recovering museum director,” says Madyun, who enjoys the details of museum curation but has learned to take a big-picture approach to leading Florida Humanities.
Madyun took the reins as Florida was still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had a lot of work on our shoulders, because we were in charge of a lot of relief money for American Rescue,” Madyun recalls. Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan Act, Florida Humanities was tasked with helping the state’s shuttered cultural organizations stay afloat.
“We made a conscious decision not to support programming, but to support general operating [needs],” Madyun says.
Florida Humanities distributed nearly $3 million, focusing on midsized cultural organizations with annual operating budgets of $500,000 and below.
“As you can imagine, a $25,000 grant means something completely different to a small historic house where the director is also the janitor,” Madyun says. The grant went a long way for museums like the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture in Orlando and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa.
As the COVID crisis subsides, Madyun has turned his attention to other priorities, including an online content hub, organized by topic, which will aggregate thousands of magazine articles, documentaries, podcasts, and other archival materials.
“We can bring entities together that would not know each other, not know they’re working on the same things,” Madyun says.
And as his father before him, Madyun is dipping a toe into publishing; Florida Humanities recently developed an imprint with the University Press of Florida. Its first book, Good Day Sunshine State: How the Beatles Rocked Florida by Bob Kealing, was published in March 2023.
Other projects in the works include research exploring Florida’s changing topography, an event marking the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop music, and an anthology of 50 articles from Florida Humanities’s FORUM magazine—Once Upon a Time in Florida: Stories of Life in the Land of Promise—to be published this fall: Fifty articles for 50 years.
As for ushering in his own fiftieth year next April, Madyun is planning ahead. He’s taking guitar lessons—electric, in homage to blues guitarist Albert King—so he can play at his own birthday shindig.