George Putnam Curator of American Art, The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

  • 15 Nov 2022 9:25 AM
    Message # 12989747

    The Peabody Essex Museum is pleased to announce the search for the George Putnam Curator of American Art. The successful candidate will be a dynamically engaged American Art specialist who is focused on exhibitions and programming and is excited by the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting the complexities and presenting the nuances of American art and culture. Collaborating closely with the PEM curatorial team and broadly across the Museum, they will create innovative experiences that promote audience engagement, as well as scholarship, publications and acquisitions that support the Museum’s mission.

    PEM’s American Art collection has expansive holdings of sculpture and paintings as well as fashion, textiles and design that span four centuries of creative expression in the United States. Supported by historic works that celebrate the rich and diverse artistic and cultural heritage of Essex County, Massachusetts, the collection has continued to grow to embrace a broader representation of the art and creative expression of this country. Together, these objects tell compelling stories of American life and the ongoing cultural exchanges between the people of the region, the country, and the wider world.

    The Curator of American Art will bring bold, imaginative thinking to PEM’s cross-departmental programs and exhibitions that are drawn from or related to collections. Some recent examples include: In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting, co-organized with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 2021; Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle Series, 2020, Georgia O'Keeffe: Art, Image & Style, 2018 the first exhibition to explore the art, image and personal style of one of America’s most iconic artists, and American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, 2015. They will be encouraged to partner within the American art network, encompassing a variety of perspectives and diverse narratives. The George Putnam Curator of American Art needs to be an experienced, energetic, and creative storyteller with an ambition to redefine the field, be open to a new way of working across media and time and have a genuine desire for authentic community engagement. They will enjoy cultivation of donors and bring with them a large professional network which can help reinvigorate PEM’s American Art Visiting Committee.

    The Curator will have the opportunity to build the collection through a combination of the Museum’s acquisition funds, support from the American Art Visiting Committee, and fundraising. The successful candidate will partner with the Development staff in stewarding the Visiting Committee, donors, collectors and supporters of acquisitions, and will be eager to help raise funds for exhibitions, special projects, publications, and broader Museum initiatives. The Museum provides travel funds to support research and networking, as well as funds for professional memberships and development.

    PEM’s culture is collaborative, and curators regularly work across collections and departments, celebrating intersections, discovery, and immersive, out-of-the-box visitor experiences. The Curator will work closely with the entire PEM curatorial team, particularly the Curators of American Decorative Art, Native American Art and the Curator of the Present Tense, as well as across all museum departments, but specifically with Exhibition Planning and Design, Learning and Civic Engagement, Collection Services, and Marketing and Communications, to ensure that the program achieves the highest professional standards of creativity, innovation, quality, relevance, and visitor engagement.

    This position reports to the Director of Curatorial Affairs.



            Organize exhibitions and collection installations and oversee non-PEM traveling exhibitions that consistently:

    o   Reflect and advance trends in the field

    o   Deliver original, dynamic, and interdisciplinary concepts

    o   Create broadly appealing experiences

    o   Explore connections between the historical and the contemporary

    o   Enhance PEM’s reputation, patronage, and relationships with other museums and cultural and community partners

    o   Attract positive critical attention

            Build and sustain partnerships with peers and other museums to:

    o   Secure or co-organize traveling exhibitions that match the above profile

    o   Ensure that PEM has the range and quality of choice to create a balanced, highly appealing and impactful as well as cost-effective exhibition program

    o   Place PEM exhibitions in strategic venues

            Collaborate with relevant departments to develop public and patron programs that appeal broadly to audiences regionally, nationally, internationally as well as online.


            Cultivate and secure direct support for museum-wide initiatives and specific projects on an annual basis from individuals, patron groups such as visiting committees, foundations, corporations, and government agencies.

            Collaborate with other curators, executive leadership, development staff, and trustees to accomplish this goal.

    The Collection & Acquisitions:

    PEM holds as one of its core values the commitment to stewarding its collection for present and future generations of people in Massachusetts, the United States, and the world. PEM is also committed to the ideals of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. The Museum seeks to:

          Ensure the ability of the collection to support PEM strategic goals far into the future.

          Promote the collection as an intellectual, learning, and research resource for the benefit of the public.

         Welcome audiences of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, sexual orientation and gender identifications to the museum.

         Ensure appropriate access to the collection and related information for PEM staff, the museum community, scholars, collectors, and the public, including the differently abled and those with sensory sensitivities.

         Provide adequate and expanding documentation of the collection.

         Strategically add works to the collection to expand its scope and build on existing strengths; and

         Periodically assess collecting priorities.

    Specifically, the Curator will:

            Develop collecting goals and an action plan that address a five-year horizon; identify and justify specific key areas and examples;estimate overall value or costs associated with goals; identify ways to secure new sources of support for acquisitions, and enhance a Visiting Committee’s membership, activities, support, and understanding of the museum’s acquisition goals.

            Secure works of superlative quality, based on approved collecting goals and action plan, to strengthen the museum’s ability to display and interpret the collection, attract visitors and patrons, and make strategic loans to other museums’ exhibitions.


    Leadership and Collaboration:

            Create new approaches and build awareness and support for this specific area of expertise.

            Identify and implement strategies for interdisciplinary and intra-collection experiences and connections between the historical and contemporary.

            Write and lecture for PEM and for strategic high-profile and peer-review outlets in ways that recognize both the museum and the curator as leaders.

            Lead or serve on teams and task forces to plan and implement specific projects and museum-wide initiatives that align with PEM’s strategic planning.

         Collaborate with the Curatorial Team and across the museum, especially with Exhibition Planning and Design, Learning and Civic Engagement, Collection Services, Development, and Marketing and Communications, on a variety of projects.

            Develop and administer realistic budgets, work plans, and schedules, and practice accountability.


            7-10 years or more of curatorial practice or comparable experience, preferably in a museum or other cultural institution.

            M.A., Ph.D. degree in Art History or the Humanities preferred.

    Essential Experience and Abilities

            Recognized expertise and passion for American art and a robust professional network.

            Enthusiasm for new forms of engagement in curatorial practice and multidisciplinary thinking.

            Resourcefulness and nimbleness; an ability to work independently, and be self-directed

            Can adjust easily to changing priorities and complex situations.

            Passion for collaboration and team-oriented work style; can build team spirit and is a good listener; can recognize and reward the contribution of others; and can communicate openly, decisively and proactively.

            Enthusiasm to fully engage the community-at-large.

            Excellent writing, research, speaking, and interpersonal communication skills.

            Time management and multitasking skills.

            Takes initiative in identifying and fulfilling needs and implementing new administrative systems.

            Highly organized and detail oriented.

            Positive, can-do attitude and sense of humor.


            The hiring salary for the position is $90,000-$120,000, based on experience.

            Comprehensive benefits package.


    Nominations and inquiries welcome. To apply: email cover letter and résumé and names of 3 references with contact information by January 6, 2023, to: Lora Urbanelli, Senior Search Consultant at: References will not be contacted without prior permission of the applicant, and all applications and nominations are kept confidential. For full details, visit

    The Peabody Essex Museum is committed to diversity among its employees and encourages qualified candidates from all backgrounds to apply.


    Located in Salem, Massachusetts, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is a destination museum with approximately 88,000 square feet of gallery space, 225 staff, a $32M annual budget and an endowment of more than $450M. PEM sees on average 200,000 visitors a year and engages local, national, global, and digital audiences, partners, and supporters in its efforts to be a magnetic meeting place, an agent of generous experimentation, and an engine for lifelong learning.

    Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming, publishing, digital media, and special initiatives that emphasize cross-cultural connections around the world, integrate past and present, and underscore the vital importance of creative expression.

    The Museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, African, Asian export, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, maritime, Native American, and Oceanic art; fashion and textiles; and photography, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures and gardens grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. A state-of-the-art, 120,000-square-foot Collection Center opened in 2018 in Rowley, MA., which is also home to PEM’s acclaimed Phillips Library.


    From its founding, the Essex Institute placed emphasis on collecting historical documents and portraits of prominent local figures, such as battle commander Sir William Pepperrell, whose monumental portrait by John Smibert arrived in Salem from Maine in 1821 on top of a stagecoach. The cornerstone of the institute’s portrait collection, it numbers among the museum’s some eight hundred likenesses in a variety of mediums by masters such as John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent and Salem’s Frank Weston Benson, as well as American artists working abroad. Other notable historical works document people engaged in daily life on land and sea. Gifts from The Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch Collection encompassed the first works by Childe Hassam and Georgia O’Keeffe to enter the museum as well as self-taught Marblehead artist J.O.J. Frost’s Civil War-themed masterpiece. Gifts and promised gifts of paintings by White Mountain artists from the Sam and Sheila Robbins Collection, and works by Stuart Davis, Benny Andrews, John Sloan and Jacob Lawrence from the Terry and Eva Herndon Collection have expanded PEM’s holdings, as have important additions by Charles Osgood, Grace Hartigan, Russell Biles, Alison Saar, Nick Cave, Beverly Semmes, Valerie Hegarty, and Steve Locke as well as Hank Willis Thomas.

    In 2022, the museum opened a ground-breaking gallery that, for the first time, combines its Native American and American collections. On This Ground: Being and Belonging in America brings together more than 250 historical and contemporary works from its collections to consider what it means to belong to a community, place, family, and nation. Spanning more than 10,000 years of visual culture, the installation offers a range of voices, modes of expression, and media, including sculpture, paintings, textiles and fashion, furniture, decorative arts, photography, and video.


    Experiential presentation and audience-oriented interpretation of contemporary and historical works of art and culture as well as a commitment to interdisciplinary and multisensory considerations reside at the core of the Museum’s mission and methods. PEM presents and interprets works of art and culture in ways that connect art to the world by fusing art, culture, history and even the sciences; connecting the past to the present by acquiring and exhibiting contemporary and historical works; and encouraging people to discover and explore the rich interconnections among international artistic and cultural expressions and traditions. As a people-centered museum, PEM dedicates its resources to providing inclusive, compelling and meaningful experiences to diverse audiences. PEM aims to make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of the public it serves.


    Salem and Boston North Shore cities and towns are among the country’s oldest coastal communities, including Salem, Newburyport, and Marblehead. The region has a 400+ year history of art and architecture, and maritime activities are still an important part of the regional culture. Salem and nearby Gloucester and other North Shore communities offer numerous museums, art galleries, historic homes, theaters, parks, restaurants, boutiques and antique shops, as well as commuter train service for the greater metropolitan Boston area. Salem alone draws more than one million visitors a year. New England’s bountiful outdoor recreational activities are quickly accessible, including sailing, hiking and skiing.

    Boston is a world-class center for banking, health care and technology research. One of America's leading intellectual centers, Boston boasts some of the most prestigious universities and medical centers in the world. As a metropolis, it is home to numerous attractions including museums, theaters, musical events and robust restaurant and brewery opportunities, and includes many distinct and historic neighborhoods. The suburbs have some of the nation’s top-rated school systems. Boston is served by a strong public transportation system and offers outdoor recreation along the Charles River and Atlantic Ocean. Sports fans enjoy the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, as well as the soccer team, the Revolution.