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Updated: July 26, 2022

Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum becomes one of only a few with Indigenous woman as CEO

canoes and museum displays Courtesy / Abbe Museum The new leader of Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum brings over 25 years in museums, philanthropy, social justice and the performing arts. The Abbe features Wabanaki art, history and culture.

The selection of Betsy Richards as the new executive director of Bar Harbor's Abbe Museum makes it one of the few such institutions with an Indigenous woman as CEO.

person smiling
Courtesy / Abbe Museum
Betsy Richards was named the Abbe Museum’s new executive director and senior partner with the Wabanaki Nations.

The museum’s board of trustees also appointed Richards as its new senior partner with the Wabanaki Nations.

Chris Newell, the museum's previous executive director and a citizen of the Passamaquoddy tribe, resigned last fall after an 18-month stint, citing personal reasons.

Richards, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said in a news release, “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."

Her 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. Founded in 1926 at Sieur de Monts Spring in Lafayette (now Acadia) National Park, the Abbe’s downtown Bar Harbor location is a 17,000-square-foot museum with exhibition galleries, indoor and outdoor program spaces, research lab and state-of-the-art collections storage.

The core exhibit is called “People of the First Light.” The museum also produces the annual Abbe Museum Indian Market in Bar Harbor, next scheduled for May 2023, to celebrate Indian arts and artists from across North America.

Richards brings over 25 years of experience in museums, philanthropy, social justice and the performing arts dedicated to Indigenous peoples and other communities. For the last decade, Richards has led the national cultural strategy of the Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab in New York City.

Before that, she spent seven years as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, also in New York, leading a $30 million grant-making effort for Native American and place-based cultural communities. While at Ford, she initiated the creation of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.  

Starting in 1997, she spent five years as the inaugural director of public programs at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, in Ledyard, Conn., the country's largest tribal museum and research center.  

Richards holds degrees from New York University and Yale University.

“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,” said Margo Lukens, co-chair of the Abbe’s board.

Lukens said that with the hire of Richards, unlike most non-tribal museums focused on Indigenous cultures and histories nationwide, the Abbe will be one of the few that has an Indigenous woman in the role of CEO. 

James Francis, also a board co-chair, said that, with Richards’ appointment, he looks forward to “elevating Wabanaki arts and culture in Indian Country and becoming a model for decolonizing cultural institutions worldwide.”

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