In August, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem will welcome its new executive director and CEO: Lynda Roscoe Hartigan.
She is the first woman to serve as director of the nation’s oldest continuously operating museum.
This is a kind of homecoming for Hartigan who was previously appointed in 2003 as PEM’s first chief curator and eventually rose to the position of deputy director in 2016. She oversaw the reinstallation of PEM’s 40,000-square-foot wing that opened in 2019.
“It is a tremendous honor to lead PEM, an organization whose focus on the potential of creativity, cultural understanding and innovation are more relevant and needed than ever,” Hartigan said in a statement. “This is a pivotal moment for museums to stimulate conversation and connection with empathy and courage. I am passionate about ensuring that PEM welcomes all people to explore our shared humanity through the power of the arts and cultural expression.”
Her arrival comes after the sudden departure of Dr. Brian P. Kennedy at the end of last year following only 17 months on the job. Stuart W. Pratt, chair of PEM’s board of trustees, said the process from there was fairly standard, putting together a search committee and asking staff about their priorities.
“Our first step was to go back and interview all of those candidates which we had interviewed in the first round to A) get their input and get their advice,” he said. “At that point, we had made a list of those museum directors who we felt were heads of museums that were comparable to ours and B) might be people that might be interested in the position we should talk to.”
He said a couple of things came up that were unexpected. Candidates who were running a major museum at present did not feel comfortable considering a new position until the pandemic was closer to its end because they did not want to abandon their museum during a difficult time.
In those conversations, many suggested they interview Hartigan, someone who staff at the PEM assumed wouldn’t be interested in the role as she had just recently started the job as the deputy director for collections and research and chief innovation officer at Canada’s largest and most visited museum, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
"We're in an interesting position,” Pratt said. “The world has changed for museums. Our goal going forward is that we need to be a community museum as well as being an international museum. We have a responsibility to our community in the North Shore in general to have programs to fill the needs where schools cannot any longer. We need to bring in a community...that's the next generation of museum goers.”