Historical Society’s New Face

Jill Malusky moved from Kentucky to take over as the executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society. Richard Barons, the current director, will retire later this year. Carissa Katz

Jill Malusky has spent her career digging into the past, but at her office at the Osborn-Jackson House on March 24 the new executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society was very much looking to the future.

Ms. Malusky, who had previously been director of visitor engagement at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, was completing her first week on the job in East Hampton and spoke with enthusiasm about all that is on the horizon as she settles in to her new role. “I want to get to know the nature of this place, what the community is like,” she said. “I love that it’s a walkable community and that all our buildings are really central.”

In addition to the Osborn-Jackson House on Main Street, an 18th-century residence that houses exhibitions from the society’s permanent collection of textiles, pottery, and furnishings, the society also oversees the 1680 Mulford Farm on James Lane; Clinton Academy, the Town House, and the Hook Schoolhouse on Main Street, all dating from the 1780s, and the East Hampton Town Marine Museum in Amagansett.

“There are so many great resources here,” Ms. Malusky said, speaking of the various newspapers and magazines and the public access TV channel that cover local happenings and keep the community informed. “There’s a great awareness that we get to tap into.”

Ms. Malusky went to graduate school in England at the University of Manchester, where she earned an M.A. in social anthropology, but her undergraduate degree, from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, is in film and photography. “I was always interested in people and stories and documenting them,” she said.

 “Farm & Family,” a documentary she made while in college, looks at the story of her own family’s farm in rural Ohio. Growing up on a farm in Ohio’s Amish country “is what set me on the path to studying history,” she said.

“I fell into museums and found that to be more interesting than working in the film industry.” She likes that museum work gives her “the opportunity to build something and support something longer-term.”

Storytelling has remained a strong part of her work. “I’m always into pulling out a story that somebody’s never head of, and making it so that those of us living our lives today can say, ‘Oh, that’s just like me.’ ”

After graduate school, she managed Merchants Adventurers’ Hall, a medieval guildhall in York, England, for a year, while still in her 20s. She inventoried the hall’s collection and planned exhibitions and educational and interpretive programs, while also leading the effort for museum accreditation.

“Ever since I’ve worked in the field of the museum, I’ve always been the youngest person in the room,” Ms. Malusky said, when asked her age. (She is 35.) “I was always just driven and passionate about this work.”

“I don’t look like what people expect in a director,” she said, but that can be ­a good thing. “I think I connect with an audience that doesn’t always see itself at historic sites.”

The position at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was pivotal for her. “It was such a huge site,” with an equally huge budget and a vast number of visitors each year. Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark, is the largest of five similar Shaker sites that are open to visitors. The 3,000-acre property includes 34 buildings, a farm, and a nature preserve, with an inn and restaurants in some of the historic buildings. She was there for three years. Among her many tasks were envisioning a new visitor experience for the landmark and developing new programs for audiences of all ages.

She is excited that the East Hampton Historical Society is developing an app and plans to use social media and imagery a lot more to spread the word about the society’s holdings and events and share pieces of the collection that might not otherwise be seen often. “It gives access to a different audience, a new audience,” she said.

The app, which has been in development since before her arrival, will be used for a walking tour. “We’d like to have it done for the start of the season,” she said. There may be other ways that the app could enhance people’s experience of the society’s sites or collections. “Over the next few months, we’ll look at where it’s appropriate and where it’s not.” Technology can complement the experience, but “sometimes it’s better not to clutter something up and let people have a hands-on experience.” 

Ms. Malusky is replacing Richard Barons, the society’s energetic longtime director, who is staying on in the role of curator during the transition, but will retire later this year.

She is settling in to a place in Sag Harbor and getting out as much as possible to meet people and get to know the community. A hiker and trail-lover, she has already discovered the Long Pond Greenbelt and a hamlet-to-hamlet trail.

“I want to encourage all of your readers to visit our properties when we have events or open our doors, to come share their ideas, their thoughts,” she said. “This is your museum, your institution, your history.” She feels privileged, she added, to have the chance to help take care of the buildings and “make them come alive and be relevant and important today.”