BAR HARBOR – The trustees of the Abbe Museum are pleased to announce the selection of Betsy Richards as its new executive director and senior partner with Wabanaki Nations.

For over 25 years, Richards has been dedicated to building cultural and narrative power for Indigenous peoples and other BIPOC communities. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, she brings to her role a wealth of experience in museums, philanthropy, social justice, and the performing arts.  

For the last decade, Richards has led The Opportunity Agenda’s national cultural strategy initiatives with artists, influencers, and advocates to shift narrative, culture, and policy towards greater economic and racial justice. Before that, she spent seven years as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, leading a $30 million grantmaking effort for Native American and place-based cultural communities. While at Ford, she initiated the creation of the unprecedented Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Starting in 1997, she spent five years as the inaugural director of public programs at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, the country’s largest tribal museum and research center.  Richards has also consulted for the Eiteljorg Museum, the Montclair Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, The Natural History Museum and served on the team for the groundbreaking narrative change research project Reclaiming Native Truth. In addition, she has run two theater companies, served as a Fellow at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater and has developed and directed plays by Native playwrights on stages in New York, Los Angeles, and Canada. Richards holds degrees from NYU and Yale University.

Board of Trustees Co-Chair Margo Lukens says, “it is so important for us to have Betsy’s leadership at this time; the Abbe is poised for growth, and Betsy brings the skills and experience needed to realize our potential.” Lukens notes that with the hire of Richards, unlike most non-tribal museums focused on Indigenous cultures and histories nationwide, the Abbe Museum will be one of the few that has an Indigenous woman in the role of CEO. With the appointment of Richards, Board Co-Chair James Francis looks forward to “elevating Wabanaki arts and culture in Indian Country and becoming a model for decolonizing cultural institutions worldwide.”

Of her new position, Richards says, “I am thrilled to be joining the Abbe and looking forward to the opportunity to work in partnership with tribal representatives, continuing to build pathways to uplift the voices, histories, and visions of Wabanaki people.”

Richards’ first day will be Oct. 1.

The Abbe is a museum of Wabanaki art, history, and culture, with the mission to inspire new learning about and from the Wabanaki Nations with every visit. Founded in 1926 at Sieur de Monts Spring in Lafayette (now Acadia) National Park, the Abbe’s downtown Bar Harbor, Maine, location is a 17,000-square-foot museum with spacious exhibition galleries, indoor and outdoor program spaces, a research lab and state-of-the-art collections storage. Its core exhibit People of the First Light provides visitors with an understanding of Wabanaki history and culture, affirming that there are today and have been Native people in Maine and the wider Wabanaki homeland for more than 12,000 years. The exhibit connects visitors to Wabanaki perspectives and ideas through multiple ways of knowing. The museum also produces the annual Abbe Museum Indian Market in Bar Harbor (May 2023) celebrating Indian arts and artists from across North America.