When all of the books had been cleared out of the limestone landmark and moved to the new building across the street, work began to transform the state’s first Carnegie library into a museum.
“It was my job to kind of create the museum in people’s minds before we created it in reality,” said Kat Burkhart, executive director and curator of the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County.
After nearly 14 years in the role, Burkhart is stepping down to join Purdue University as senior program manager for the Purdue Systems Collaboratory, which develops multi-college projects. Friday is her final day at the museum.
Though no formal gathering is planned due to the pandemic, well-wishers are welcomed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
The Crown Point native began her career in 1993 as an intern for the curator’s office at the U.S. Supreme Court, where she documented the confirmation hearings for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She later worked on the Duke Ellington Collection at the National Museum of American History.
Following stints at museums in Colorado and Kentucky, Burkhart curated the world’s first exhibit on techno music at the Detroit Historical Museum.
After arriving in Crawfordsville, where her husband Craig’s family has a funeral home business, in 2005, Burkhart was tapped as a consultant for the development of the Carnegie Museum, which is owned by the library.
The museum is named after 19th century steel baron Andrew Carnegie, who gave millions of dollars to establish public libraries throughout the world.
The library didn’t want to tell Montgomery County’s story with a timeline. Exhibits were planned around the themes of art, history and science, with a special focus on STEM-related activities. Students from local middle school teacher Shannon Hudson’s science class helped build the first exhibit, which covered electricity.
The middle school curator program was recognized by the American Association of State and Local History. The museum also received the Outstanding Historical Organization Award from the Indiana Historical Society in 2015.
Patrons have come to identify the museum with her, though Burkhart insists the museum will be in good hands without her at the helm.
“It’s not my museum,” said Burkhart, whose family is not leaving the community. “It’s meant to be the museum for Crawfordsville, for Montgomery County.”