The National Indo-American Museum Welcomes Executive Director Tamara Biggs
February 11, 2022
Marking another significant milestone, the National Indo-American Museum is honored to welcome it’s very first Executive Director, Tamara Biggs into the NIAM family!
Tamara, has been creating museum exhibitions for 40 years, the last 21 serving as director of exhibitions at Chicago History Museum where she has led a nationally recognized creative team. Tamara was one of the founders of the Chicago Cultural Alliance. She has had a long association with NIAM, having previously served five years on the board, two as president.
“I still remember taking the bus to the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park for a free art appreciation camp one summer. That really cemented my love for museums. Add to that my wide-ranging curiosity and artistic skills.” – Tamara Biggs
What drew you to a career in Museums?
I grew up in St. Louis where the major museums are free, and my family took full advantage of that. I still remember taking the bus to the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park for a free art appreciation camp one summer. That really cemented my love for museums. Add to that my wide-ranging curiosity and artistic skills. My last year of college it just popped into my head that I could combine all those interests by making museum exhibitions. My last semester I interned in the exhibitions department of the St. Louis Museum of Science and Natural History. After college, I moved to Chicago, and six weeks later, I had a job making mounts at Field Museum. That’s more than 40 years ago! And it’s hard to believe that I directed the exhibitions program at Chicago History.
What motivated you to become involved with NIAM?
As one of the founders of the Chicago Cultural Alliance, I served as an officer on the board. In that role, I had the great privilege of meeting so many, many passionate representatives of Chicago’s ethnic communities. Among them were Lakshmi Menon, Dorothie Shah and Happie Datt who were on the NIAM (then Indo-American Heritage Museum) board. I was chatting with them at the CCA gala. They were full of praise for everything the CCA had done to bolster all the core member groups and thanked me for my service on the CCA board. When I mentioned that I was stepping down after five years, Lakshmi immediately said, “Then you have time for us!” I joined the IAHM board later that year, and within nine months I was the president.
Even when I stepped down from the NIAM board, I remained an engaged supporter, and I was heavily involved in the planning for the Patel Center and the E/Merge exhibition. And now look at me— NIAM’s first executive director. I am so excited for our bright future ahead!
What have you found most interesting about the Indian diaspora community?
First and foremost, my entry into the community has been based on friendship and respectful relationships. When I served on the board, my fellow board members shared so much about their personal journeys and the broader history of Indian immigration, struggles and triumphs, and contributions to American life. I enjoyed lunching with them on Devon Avenue after board meetings, learning about regional foodways, and adapting my tongue to spicy food! Planning Amazing India at Navy Pier brought together dancers, and vendors, and rangoli art for kids. (Rangoli was a new word for me back then!) Each program we hosted was an educational adventure for me. My knowledge just scratches the surface of the complexities of India and the Desi community here, but I love learning more every day.
Outside of the museum world, what is Tamara like?
I’ve always got a project going at home. I am in the middle of construction of a new dormer addition to my 102-year-old Chicago bungalow. I have done most of the design and physical work myself with a few skilled helpers.
I am also an organic gardener and live as ecologically as possible.
I had the chance to travel to India for the first time in February 2020, for a wedding. I hope to make many more trips in the future.
I have two adult daughters, and I’m so grateful they both live in Chicago.
I love to dance and am in a Swedish folk dance troupe. (Maybe we can perform at NIAM!) I also like to bike and swim. Oh! And I love crossword puzzles–I do the NY Times puzzle every day. I recently discovered the wordle world and am already addicted.
NIAM is delighted to welcome Tamara aboard, she has always been a significant contributor, and now an invaluable asset to grow our organization. Please join us in welcoming her and wishing her the very best in her new role!