Izzy Kasdin to Step Down From Historical Society Post
By Anne Levin
After nearly six years as executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP), and nine years working and volunteering previously for the nonprofit, Izzy Kasdin will leave the organization at the end of this month.
The 29-year-old Princeton native, a graduate of Princeton High School and Princeton University, announced her plans last week. Staff member Leanne Hunter, listed on the HSP website as private events manager, will serve as interim director while a committee of board and staff members undergoes a national search to fill the position.
“This was not a decision I came to lightly,” Kasdin said in an email this week. “It’s something I considered deeply, because this institution and this community matter so much to me. After spending substantial time at one institution, I felt it was important for me to move on to the next challenge in my career. This particular moment in the calendar year and lifecycle of the institution also felt like the best possible time for HSP to embark on a search for fresh leadership. I wanted to make sure my departure was respectful of everything HSP had gifted me as a professional.”
The HSP moved in 2015 from its former headquarters at Bainbridge House on Nassau Street to its permanent home at the historic Updike Farm on Quaker Road. The farmhouse museum hosts permanent and changing exhibitions. The site has also become popular as a setting for weddings, concerts, and other events. The museum was closed from late September to early this month due to damage on Quaker Road from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Kasdin, who said she does not have a future position to announce, was in high school when she began working at the HSP as a volunteer, research assistant, docent, and curator.
“It was the first professional experience I had in public history, and I remember getting such a rush taking people through HSP’s exhibitions,” she said. “To this day, I still recall those individual visitors and conversations. The memory is so salient because it gave me such joy to be able to share my interest in history with others and inspire them to be curious about the past. Watching that spark happen before my very eyes because of a story that I told — it was magical. It’s been so special to be able to give back to the institution that set me on my path.”
Among projects Kasdin has found especially rewarding are the Historical Fiction Book Group, the Building Princeton Lego event, collections-based school partnerships, and the renovations of the barn at Updike Farmstead and the Garden State History Garden. She is particularly proud of the recent digital Revolutionary History Walking Tour connected to lyrics from the musical Hamilton, which the HSP developed when the filmed version of the Broadway production was being released on Disney+.
“It was a way for people to engage with local history while quarantined – and there really are so many great Princeton connections in the show,” said Kasdin. “We had the idea only a handful of days before the Disney+ release, and the entire staff came together. There was a big Google Doc that we were all working on at the same time, and everyone was pouring in all of their own excellent interpretive concepts. What emerged was a lovely collaborative effort, and I think that’s why it sticks out to me now. I was fortunate to have a team that was so game to conceive of and try new programs and ideas throughout my tenure – they are smart and creative, and they care deeply about this town’s history and stories. I will very much miss working with all of them, but I know they will carry the torch splendidly!”
Paul Pessutti, president of HSP’s board of trustees, credits Kasdin with helping get the organization through the worst of the pandemic.
“We have been very fortunate to have Izzy lead HSP for such a long and important period,” he said in a press release. “Izzy made a tremendous impact on the organization, reframing its mission and vision for the visitor experience at Updike Farmstead, building dozens of new programs delivered throughout town, and developing invaluable partnerships with other community institutions. Izzy is at the beginning of what we are sure will be a long and successful career. We are very excited for her next role and opportunity and are proud that HSP will always be the place where she began. Though we will miss her expert leadership and passion for Princeton’s history, the entire board wishes her all the best in her future endeavors.”