New Museum Director Focuses on Engagement

by Ken Leja, Media & Marketing Manager, Sharlot Hall Museum

Lisa Hayes grew up in Montana and Wyoming; big sky and cowboy country. Relocating to Prescott, Arizona, for her was a no-brainer.

“The area reminds me so much of my youth — the outdoors, nature and historical heritage of the area. It’s why I’m thrilled to become the next executive director at Sharlot Hall Museum, the centerpiece of history and heritage in the Central Highlands of Arizona. And, to follow in the path of the dynamic Ms. Sharlot Hall,” she says.

With a doctorate in American Studies, Hayes brings a love of history to the museum with particular interest in living-history and museum-theater programs. 

“My dissertation was on ‘theatricalizing’ oral history,” she explains. “Bringing history alive helps cultivate emotional connections with visitors making the museum experience more meaningful and memorable.”

“One of the biggest competitors for museums is the wealth of entertainment that people can access from the comfort of their own home,” she points out. So, “Museum living history programs provide an entertaining way to discover our history and heritage, and can be a prime tool for attracting a wider audience and providing an engaging experience that can also help cultivate repeat visitation.” 

Hayes says with the museum’s focus on history, “We have both the opportunity and responsibility to connect the people, events, places, stories, and ideas of the past with the people of today — to provide context to the events, places, stories, and ideas of today that are meaningful to the people who live in and visit Prescott, the quad-cities, and the Central Highlands.” 

A Role Out West

Her fascination with the past also shows in her love of old movies, including screwball comedies, film noir and classical Westerns.

“I helped fulfill one of my husband’s bucket list items a few years ago — riding horseback through Monument Valley,” she says. “Later we watched She Wore a Yellow Ribbon while enjoying the scenery and cinematic backdrop of the film.”

Hayes says she loves to read mystery novels, biographies and histories about women — “When I have spare time, which there isn’t a lot of when leading a nonprofit.” 

Hayes takes over the Museum reins from Fred Veil, who retires at the end of 2020, after seven years as the director. She will become the eighth director since the Museum’s founding in 1928.

Previously, she had been 10 years with the Accokeek Foundation, stewards of a 200-acre site in Piscataway Park (Maryland) that included a living-history museum (colonial farm), nature trails and visitor services area.

 “As director of education and public programs, and then foundation president/CEO, I oversaw programs and operations at a national park created to preserve an historic watershed,” she says.

“I used to tell people that, if you ever stood on George Washington’s porch at Mount Vernon, looked across the Potomac River and admired the view, we were the view.”

While there, she used her collaborative leadership and management skills to guide the organization through major changes, orchestrating the development of innovative new programs, “while managing a public/private partnership much like that of Sharlot Hall Museum.”

In addition, she worked closely with the Piscataway Indian tribes in developing interpretations of traditional homelands and a traveling exhibit, a Smithsonian field trip program, and creating a heritage tourism alliance among businesses, historic sites and cultural organizations in the Washington, D.C., region.

“I firmly believe that museums thrive when they are active participants in the community,” she says. “Museums must be creative if they want to attract a wider audience.”

There are many opportunities for program enhancements to bring about additional community engagement and appreciation for the heritage and history embodied in the historic buildings and exhibits at Sharlot Hall Museum, she says.

“The more participatory and engaging, the more we can make this museum an even more popular and frequented destination for visitors and community members alike.”