Meet Lisa Hayes: Executive Director of Sharlot Hall Museum

Lisa Hayes, PhD, writes at her desk

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,” she added, “and to follow in the path of the dynamic Ms. Sharlot Hall.”

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 explained. “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.

“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,” she added.

“At the Museum, our focus is 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,” she said.

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,” she said.

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

“And I love 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,” she added.

Hayes took over the reins from Fred Veil, who retired after seven years as director of the Museum, and is the eighth director since its 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 said.

“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, I used my collaborative leadership and management skills to guide the organization through major changes, orchestrating the development of innovative new programs,” she added, 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, as well as creating a heritage tourism alliance among businesses, historic sites and cultural organizations in the Washington, DC region.

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

“I see lots of 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. “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.”

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