Elisabeth Ward, the Los Altos History Museum’s new executive director, is a woman who loves languages. Along with English, she speaks Icelandic, Norwegian and Spanish.
Ward also appreciates how art speaks to people.
“I really like the way exhibits communicate,” she said. “I like the fact that every visitor to an exhibition creates their own story and their own experience.”
Ward noted that her interest in museums began when she was looking at master’s programs after earning a bachelor’s degree in Scandinavian languages and literature from UC Berkeley. Ward moved East to attend George Washington University, earning a master’s degree in anthropology, with a concentration in museum studies.
During graduate school, Ward took an internship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., that evolved into a job. She worked on the exhibit “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga,” which garnered an international audience that included each of the heads of states of the five Nordic countries.
“Because I did something so public and internationally supported, it actually made me get more interested in local community after that,” said Ward, whose mother is from Iceland.
After completing her master’s, she returned to Berkeley to earn a doctorate in Scandinavian languages and literature in 2012. That led to a job as director of the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
Although Ward said she enjoyed working there, she felt that being part of the university limited her management opportunities. The native Californian, who grew up in Mission Viejo, also wanted to move back to her home state to be closer to family.
The opening at the Los Altos History Museum appealed to her, Ward said, especially after reading about the board members.
“As soon as I read the board profile, I thought, ‘I will never get another opportunity like this to work with the kind of people on the board here at the Los Altos History Museum,’” she said.
Hired last month, Ward officially assumed the director’s role March 20. In her new position, Ward said she hopes to foster an atmosphere of cooperation – she wants each docent, gardener and volunteer to feel valued. She is also considering a “museum without walls” model – a virtual experience in which the user can essentially visit any place in Los Altos, take a photo, upload it to a cloud-based platform and access information about it.
The mother of an 11-year-old son, Ward lives in Moraga. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, writing, driving, spending time in nature and playing tennis and golf.
That is, when she has free time.
“I am a little bit of a workaholic,” Ward said.
For more information on the Los Altos History Museum, visit losaltoshistory.org.