Ramin Ganeshram has been an editor for companies like Ziff Davis and Hachette. She was a cultural strategist for a major market research firm, a New York Times stringer, and a researcher and writer on culture, history, food and travel. And she’s a professionally trained chef.
Now Ramin has a new gig. This week she takes over as the Westport Historical Society’s new executive director.
It’s the next, entirely natural fit for the New York native and Columbia Journalism School grad.
Her father was Trinidadian, her mother from Iran. “They met in Brooklyn!” she laughs.
They assimilated into America. In fact, Ramin says, the only time her parents nodded to their cultures was around food. As he cooked, her father told stories.
She started writing about food 25 years ago. “It wasn’t as hip and trendy as it is today,” she says of that genre. “But shopping and cooking is really about history and anthropology.” Her writing focused on those elements of food.
She’s been a Westporter for nearly a decade. She and her husband, JP Vellotti, moved here for the schools — and so their daughter Sophia could learn her dad’s family’s history. (They’ve been in the Norwalk/Rowayton area for generations.)
Ramin wanted to be near a beach, no more than an hour from New York — with a downtown she could walk to. They fell in love with an old house on Evergreen Avenue. The seller grew up in it, and was thrilled that Ramin and JP would not tear it down.
Soon after moving, Ramin organized a fundraiser for Haitian earthquake victims. It raised $10,000.
That led to more volunteer work. She attended meetings of TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural committee — and after a year, was appointed a full member. She welcomed the opportunity to address Westport’s diversity (or lack thereof).
She applied for the Historical Society executive director position knowing that “I don’t come to museum history and curation in traditional ways. But I love history. I’ve done a lot of research. And I have a strong business background.”
Ramin believes the WHS can be “a more expansive organization. Sue (Gold, the previous executive director) was amazing. But all businesses have to look at how they manage themselves.”
Right now, Ramin says, the Historical Society is “a consistent and well-thought-of part of the community. Lots of people go to lectures and exhibits. Lots of kids go to the camps. It’s high-quality, very professional, and and it fulfills its mission incredibly well.”
Ramin’s vision is for the WHS to extends its reach, and become more integrated into the community. “A historical society can be seen as aimed at only pockets of people — history-minded older people, young children. I want us to be more expansive.”
She’d like a better social media presence, interactive programs to accompany exhibits, “virtual” exhibits on the website, and livestream talks.
“I want the Westport Historical Society to be a place people want to come to and enjoy — a place where they know they can have an ongoing conversation.”
Challenges include “the perception that historical societies in general are just repositories of old information,” and — of course — funding.
With enough money, Ramin says, the WHS can even do outreach to nearby under-served communities.
She’s spending her first week getting to know the staff and volunteers. She’s excited about the exhibit opening in May — it’s on Westport’s African-American history.
Ramin looks forward too to meeting directors of other non-profits: the library, Westport Arts Center, area historical societies.
So what’s been her favorite exhibit, in the hall she now oversees?
“The Danbury raid,” she says without hesitation. “I love that Revolutionary War era of history. It’s great there’s still a tangible link, with the Minute Man monument at Compo. It was mounted beautifully, with amazing artifacts.”
And, the multi-talented, food-oriented new director admits, she had a small part in the display: “I did something on colonial kitchens!”