The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) has named Heather A. Reed executive director of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum (FRHM) in Las Cruces. She replaces Mark Santiago, who retired in July. Reed, who has 16 years of experience working with museums and historic sites, will assume the directorship Nov. 2.
Reed said history has always been part of her life. A native of northeast Ohio, she said she grew up surrounded by family heirlooms and ancestors’ stories.
Part of a long line of teachers and professors, Reed said she has taken a more hands-on immersive tack with her life, inspired by the stories she heard growing up.
“My great-great-grandfather was an accountant for the Texas Land and Cattle Company in Scotland,” she said. “They didn’t think the numbers sounded right so they sent my great-great-grandfather to count cows in Texas. And he found they were reporting back false numbers. He tracked down the stolen cows, $25,000 worth.”
Reed’s great-great-grandfather accountant ended up working on one of the ranches that became part of the King Ranch in Texas, still touted at “the birthplace of American ranching.” And that’s how her Scottish family ended up in America.
“What I love about going to new museums, is to immerse in the community,” she said. “When all events tie together, it ties into the community. It really is the personal stories that make it so valuable. Everyone is history.”
Previously serving as as the first director of Museum and Education at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, Reed said she created and implemented founding operational documents and procedures, leading the museum from opening through its first two years of exhibits, educational programs, open houses and tours. She also oversaw the development and management of goals, budgets and efficient use of resources.
Before that, Reed said she spent seven years working at the Taylor County History Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where she held the positions of executive director, executive vice president, site manager and curator. H
er professional experience also includes service at The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas; Amazement Square Children’s Museum in Lynchburg, Virginia; and the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, Morgan County Historical Society, Perry County Historical Society, Athens County Historical Society & Museum and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, all in Ohio.
She said children are an important part of a museum’s purpose. Not only do they need to see the past in person, she said, but they also provide unique insights.
“They look at the stories in life, and I love to watch them light up with new ideas,” she said. “You do have to learn from the past, and it goes back to connecting your community. History is a lot more than stories in a textbook. It’s important to understand where we come from, the people who came before,”
Reed was an adjunct instructor of undergraduate courses on cultural and heritage tourism at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from The College of Wooster in Ohio and a master’s degree in public history with a focus on museum studies, interpretation and heritage tourism from North Carolina State University.
“My primary focus was frontier history and American Civil War history,” she said.
She said she is excited to come to New Mexico and meet its people, although she will be working at home in quarantine for the first two weeks, at least.
“I’m absolutely thrilled about the opportunity to join the team at the Farm & Ranch,” Reed said. “I’m excited to get started and immerse myself in the New Mexico culture, engage the community and learn what makes the museum staff passionate about what they do. I’m not going to go in with a bunch of brand-new ideas and tell them what to do. I want to hear their assessments, talk to the people and move forward from there.”
Reed said she will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the museum and its programs, as well as establishing its long-term strategic vision. With a staff of 25, she will ultimately oversee the development of exhibits, educational programs and public events. Reporting to the DCA cabinet secretary, Reed will work with the governor-appointed board as well as Friends of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum to coordinate policy and fundraising initiatives.