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Check Out Sarah Richardt’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Richardt. 

Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
Volunteering has always been the center of my professional life. It is what has led me on a journey in my career. I had big dreams of working at a zoo when I was young. I began volunteering at a zoo in high school and then went on to Purdue University for my degree in Forestry and Wildlife Science. My first job was at The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, but after a few years, I realized this was not my forever job. I transitioned my career to the forestry part of my degree to work in the landscaping field for many years.  I moved to Lombard, IL (The Lilac Village), a suburb of Chicago, where I spent every May volunteering at Lilacia Park, sharing the history to the thousands of visitors that came to visit the lilac collection. As fate would have it, the park was across from the local museum run by the Lombard Historical Society. The Society also ran an Underground Railroad site and folk art museum, the Sheldon Peck Homestead.

In 2008, I began to volunteer at the Lombard Historical Society and soon was offered a job as their program and volunteer coordinator. This started my career in the museum field that I feel that I am now at home.While working at the Sheldon Peck Homestead and Lombard Historical Society (eventually becoming their executive director), I found my passion of working in small museums and sharing the history of the Underground Railroad and the Anti-Slavery movement. This was surprising to me as it was not my intended profession. My educational background was focused on working in a zoo or other outdoor field. To many, it is difficult to imagine how my zoo background led to museum leadership but the management structure of a museum is the same as my zoo experience: collection care, visitor engagement, board development, facilities, volunteer management, and budget and finance. I like to say, zoos and museums are the same types of organizations, but one collection you feed and the other you dust.

I moved to Columbus in April of 2020 four months after my husband relocated to Ohio and during the Covid-19 shutdown. My husband and I already had secured jobs before we moved. I was eager to start my new position at the Kelton House Museum & Garden as their new director.  One week after I arrived in Ohio, my husband was transferred to Indianapolis. I was looking forward to the new job in Columbus so I stayed. Although living apart is definitely not ideal, I wanted to see where I could take the Kelton House Museum and Garden in their historical Journey. As I lead the Kelton House as their executive director, I am surprised each day on how their history is so relatable to the overall community.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Beginning my career in a museum has been an easy one. I seemed to have fallen into it by being at the right place and having the right skills to do the job. My passion has grown for creating meaningful engagements through the storytelling of history. This passion  has made entering museum life surprisingly smooth. The job of running a small museum is a challenging field in itself. The lack of resources (both human and financial) for privately funded institutions takes a toll on the staff and volunteers. Long hours are normal in this field and are sometimes exhausting, but the work is worth it.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
I specialize in creating community around shared stories in history. The Underground Railroad and Anti-slavery movements are a unique system in American history that every person can relate to. It affected all people and socioeconomic levels and is relevant in today’s world. Telling those stories in a new way shocks and surprises people as they do not know of the quiet heroes (and villains) where they live. This creates an enthusiasm for the history, and for the historic site to gain a new community of supporters.

This is the same for art. Many believe art is not for all but only certain classes. When I speak about art, it is not about the pretentious; it is about how it is relatable. Art can tell a story and speak to an individual in many ways that are personal and meaningful.

In 2019, I created a never-before exhibit of the works of folk-art portraitist Sheldon Peck. This was the first time an Itinerant folk artist had their works shown in their home. Museums and private collectors lent their art to create this unique exhibit that held national interest. The exhibit, featuring abolitionists and everyday people, was paired with a collection catalog and documentary: Sheldon Peck: Portrait of an Ordinary Man in Extraordinary Times. Every subject in Peck’s paintings had a relatable story that could be shared. In 2021, I was able to curate an exhibit of artist Catz Stanford’s work at the Kelton House. Her portraits of heroes of the Underground Railroad were impactful and the exhibit lifted a new artist in Columbus.

I hope to be able to share art and history in a way that is meaningful, familiar and exciting. This is my work.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?

I consider myself a historian, and I research the Underground Railroad through primary source documents for hours each week. I try to find new pieces that can connect the dots in history.

I live in Indianapolis and travel each week to Columbus, Ohio to work at a job that I love.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Doug White Photography
Kelton House
Nicole Bergman

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