Jefferson County Historical Society promotes new director

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/10/24



Tara McCauley was hired as the Jefferson County Historical Society’s program director in December of 2019, before being drafted to serve as its interim executive …

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Jefferson County Historical Society promotes new director




Tara McCauley was hired as the Jefferson County Historical Society’s program director in December of 2019, before being drafted to serve as its interim executive director by June of 2023, and at the tail end of last month, the JCHS promoted her to serve as their fully fledged executive director.

The JCHS Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint McCauley to the role, citing her more than two decades of experience in museum education, programming and leadership.

McCauley recalled how her husband had attended boat-building schooling in Port Townsend, roughly 20 years before, so when they got the opportunity to move to town, she regarded a spot at the Jefferson County Historical Society as “a dream come true.”

A born-and-raised Pacific Northwesterner, McCauley came to the JCHS after having worked at five different but similar organizations, including Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, as well as the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, armed with an undergraduate degree in art history, plus a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia in museum education.

Although McCauley came to Jefferson County as an old hand at utilizing her skills in museum programming to develop, transform and “reimagine” museums, to make them more culturally enriching, including by creating new museum spaces, the onset of COVID presented her with a novel new challenge, as she was still settling into her new home.

“I’d only been in town for a few months when COVID was declared both a pandemic and a national emergency, so it became a unique way for me to get to know the community,” McCauley said. “I was glad to connect the Historical Society with people virtually, because so many people were so quick to commit to making those connections, not only with us, but also with each other. Even as we engaged in social distancing, we all came together as a community.”

McCauley also noted that the pandemic was an opportunity for the Jefferson County Historical Society to “bear witness” and keep records of history being made in real time.

“Of course, history is literally made every day, but it’s not always so obvious,” McCauley said.

Moving forward, McCauley touted the “Rooted in Change” campaign, summed up at online, as a way to further “reimagine” the museum experience.

“In exploring how we might best serve our surrounding community, we employed surveys and listening sessions, and even assembled a community advisory committee,” McCauley said. “We’re very serious and excited about having our museum be more agile and responsive in reflecting our community, in ongoing dynamic ways.”

In reconsidering the Jefferson County Historical Society’s museum in downtown Port Townsend as an exhibition space, McCauley explained that each year will focus on a primary topic or theme, for which the JCHS will refer to its collection and archives, while also consulting with curators, artists and other partners out in the community, starting with this year’s theme of “home.”

“We’ll be asking, ‘What is home?’” McCauley said. “Is it a geographic place, is it people, is it a feeling? How has home here been tied to work, including housing on military bases? We’ll be looking at the evolution of architecture, consulting with our Tribal partners to share Indigenous perspectives on home, and examining the current housing crisis. And as we consider the impacts of climate change, we’ll be evaluating possibilities for what ‘home’ could come to mean in the future.”

McCauley emphasized that the Jefferson County Historical Society is only capable of undertaking such ambitious directions because of all those who work there and support its efforts.

“We have an incredible, professional, dedicated, passionate and smart-as-heck staff, who inspire me, and who I learn from every day,” McCauley said. “Our board is engaged and supportive, and has such deep care and commitment for this community and its cultural landscape, bringing such a diversity of experience, expertise and perspective to our organization.”