Rick Beard, former chief operating
officer of the New-York Historical Society and executive
director of the Atlanta History Center, has been named
the new director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity," Beard said in
a telephone interview Tuesday. "What has been
accomplished, first in creating the museum and then in
the public's incredible reaction, has been quite
remarkable. In my experience, I've seen nothing that has
matched its success."
Beard, 59, replaces Richard Norton Smith, who
resigned in March and is a scholar-in-residence at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Illinois state historian Tom Schwartz has been
interim director and had hoped to be named to the
position permanently. He will continue as state
historian when Beard begins his job in November,
according to library and museum spokeswoman Jill
Like Smith, Beard also will head the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library Foundation, the library and
museum's private fundraising arm.
Beard will be paid $150,000 a year as the library and
museum director, the same salary Smith received. Smith
also got roughly the same salary as head of the
foundation. Negotiations between Beard and the
foundation are ongoing, according to Gov. Rod
Blagojevich's office, which will announce Beard's
According to various sources, Beard is considered an
able administrator, fundraiser and scholar. He currently
heads a nationwide effort to commemorate the 150th
anniversary of the Civil War between 2011 and 2015, a
responsibility he will keep when he moves to
Springfield.While he said not to expect many changes
when he arrives, the museum faces plenty of challenges.
"I'm not sure (you're) going to see anything
different," Beard said. "But the whole institution is
dealing with a sigh of collective relief after the
opening (in April 2005). There will be a number of
challenges - taking it to the next level, maintaining
momentum, building on it - and the (Lincoln)
bicentennial to take advantage of and how we'll carve
out of piece of that.
"I'm also very committed to keeping momentum on the
150th anniversary of the Civil War. The next eight or
nine years are Mr. Lincoln's years."
Among his previous positions, Beard has been
associate director of the Museum of the City of New
York, associate director of the Hudson River Museum in
Yonkers, N.Y., coordinator of the Yale University Center
for American Art and Material Culture and research
historian for the Smithsonian's National Portrait
Gallery in Washington, D.C.
For the past two years, Beard has done consulting for
museums and historical societies. He is working on a
book about presidential campaigns and has written many
articles about social, political and medical history.
Beard, who lives in Atlanta, has a doctorate in
American Studies from Emory University. He is credited
with turning around the Atlanta History Center, where he
created a museum fellowship program for minority college
students. Before he took over the center, it was
considered "a private club for Buckhead blue bloods,"
according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Beard led the center's growth from a reception hall
and a couple historic buildings to an educational
institution with a 117,000-square-foot museum that
specializes in Southern history and culture," the
newspaper wrote when Beard left the center in 2002 after
10 years on the job.
"Rick Beard is a gifted, imaginative and impressive
leader in the history field," said Harold Holzer, a
Lincoln historian and co-chair of the United States
Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. "He has a gift for
making history come alive, not only for historians but
the public as well."
Beard will sit on the Illinois Abraham Lincoln
Bicentennial Commission, according to the governor's
Beard has not been without controversy. While he was
in Atlanta, the History Center had the opportunity to
host "Without Sanctuary," a powerful photography exhibit
documenting lynchings in U.S. history. Eventually, the
collection owner found another venue when disagreements
arose about how the exhibit should be presented.
Also, according to a 2004 New York Times article,
Beard seems to have been dismissed from his New-York
Historical Society post when the organization's new
board shifted its focus on New York City history to
national history. According to Beard, he was "the first,
but by no means the last" of many society employees who
lost their jobs during the transition.
Beard's wife, Susan, operates musicalamerica.com, an
online news source for the performing-arts industry. She
also writes freelance articles for The New York Times,
the Journal-Constitution and other publications. They
have a 13-year-old daughter, Nora.
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or