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Women in Business 2021: Ilene Frank, Connecticut Historical Society

Ilene Frank Employer: Connecticut Historical Society Title: Chief Curator See all Women in Business 2021 honorees
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Ilene Frank is the Connecticut Historical Society’s (CHS) chief curator, overseeing exhibitions, education, collections and marketing for the museum and library, a position she’s held since 2015. She leads a dynamic team of 15 full-time and six part-time co-workers. With over 20 years of experience, Frank previously was executive director of the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy, New York, and has worked for other museums in New York and Maryland. She has a master’s degree in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York College at Oneonta, and a bachelor’s in history from St. Mary’s College, Maryland.

What’s been your biggest professional accomplishment so far?

I feel accomplished when I work with a community in designing a public program or exhibition that shares their history with others. A recent success was when the CHS team co-curated the exhibition “Language, Culture, Communities: 200 Years of Impact by the American School for the Deaf,” which received a national award from the American Association of State and Local History and wide appreciation from members of the deaf community.

What’s the next big goal you want to accomplish professionally?

I want to establish a Community Historian Program at the CHS. This would focus on working with community members whose histories have been underrepresented in museums. Its main goal is to ensure that the archive of tomorrow is more inclusive than the one we have today.

What’s one of the biggest professional challenges you’ve overcome?

Unfortunately, like most fields, the museum field has much work to do around salary equity and gender equity. I have not overcome this, but I am proud of the work I have done as a presenter on this issue to encourage my colleagues to advocate for themselves. I work with CHS’s leadership toward improving salaries and benefits.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic forced you to adapt as a leader?

At the beginning of the pandemic, all of our plans for 2020 were thrown out the window. But we didn’t have the luxury to wallow in feeling lost; my team had to quickly adapt and recreate how to deliver programs, or present exhibitions. I think this pandemic has made me more nimble. I want to hold on to that, but I’ll also be happy when we can plan with certainty for an in-person program or outdoor event.

Who has been your most important mentor and why?

I usually say my mom but I’d like to acknowledge two others, Joan Baldwin and Anne Ackerson, authors on leadership in museums and especially about women leaders. When they interviewed me for their book, “Leadership Matters,” it started a mentorship that has challenged me and pushed me toward being a more authentic leader. When I need museum-specific guidance, I turn to them.

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