D. Stephen Elliott, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), will retire from his position, effective June 1, 2018. Elliott, 68, has been active in the field of public history for more than 45 years, serving nearly seven years in Minnesota. “Minnesotans embrace and value their history,” said Elliott, “and recognize that history is the context for the world in which we live, the issues we confront and the lives we live every day.”
Phyllis Goff, president of MNHS and chair of its governing board, the Executive Council, noted that, “Steve Elliott's leadership has been forward-looking and effective in engaging broader audiences and new partners and in building on a strong foundation of statewide service that extends from the Minnesota Historical Society’s chartering by the first territorial legislature 168 years ago to today.”
Since joining MNHS in May 2011, Elliott has helped sharpen the organization’s focus to serve Minnesotans now and into the future. During his tenure, annual visitation surpassed 1 million across the MNHS statewide network of 26 historic sites and museums.
He oversaw a reimagined Oliver Kelley Farm and is leading the vision for a revitalized Historic Fort Snelling—one that encompasses broader historical interpretation and community engagement, while adapting mothballed historic structures to serve as visitor orientation and exhibit facilities.
Elliott also established two new departments at MNHS: Inclusion and Community Engagement, and Native American Initiatives. Both enable staff, volunteers and community partners to help more people find relevance in the stories of the past and their lives today.
“Steve’s work and many accomplishments in the area of diversity and inclusion serve as a model for museums around the country,” said Laura L. Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums. “I admire the reach of the museum fellowship program, which facilitates the exploration of museum careers for diverse undergraduate students as well as the MNHS Department of Inclusion and Community Engagement, charged with developing strategic and systematic approaches to change.”
Under Elliott’s leadership, the organization’s commitment to education has resulted in MNHS serving more than 300,000 students statewide annually through field trips, History Day, the Northern Lights social studies curriculum and History Live. He has overseen the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants program, which has provided more than 1,963 grants to 724 organizations across Minnesota totaling nearly $37 million since the program started in 2009. And he has launched efforts to digitize historical materials for use by researchers, students and family historians.
The Minnesota History Center presented a variety of exhibits under Elliott’s direction that sparked the interest of thousands of schoolchildren, families and adults. “We Are Hmong Minnesota” and “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” brought in new audiences. “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” approached a part of our state’s history that affects us all to this day, and “Minnesota and the Civil War” commemorated the war’s sesquicentennial.
“Toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s” continues its nationwide tour, “WW1 America” is beginning its national tour after a successful run at the History Center, and the popular “The 1968 Exhibit” will return from its five-year tour to the History Center in December, prompting the question, “How much have we changed or learned in the last 50 years?”
Elliott’s long career serving historic organizations includes leading the New York State Historical Association and 28 years with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He has also served on numerous museum, history, education and civic boards and chaired the American Association for State and Local History from 2010-12.
A special committee of the MNHS Executive Council, the Society’s governing board, has engaged Dr. Brent Glass of Bryan & Jordan Consulting to assist with the search process for Elliott’s successor, with an announcement expected in spring of 2018. Glass is director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
The Minnesota Historical Society is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.
The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by the State of Minnesota and its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.