Transforming people’s lives through art and culture
Peabody Essex Museum sparks curiosity, broadens understanding of the wider world
Walking through the doors of the Peabody Essex Museum is like stepping into a living classroom, where in one place, you can be transported to a dozen different worlds.
To start, learn about the impassioned activism of young Black leaders from Salem who sparked the national equal school rights movement. Explore the underlying issues of climate change through the art of Indigenous artists and young people. Or imagine the effect of deforestation on our environment by taking a stroll through an outdoor campus of trees, painted a magnificent (and environmentally friendly blue) by a community of volunteers.
“Museums need to be daring, caring and sharing – as living, breathing, trusted agents and partners,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Executive Director and CEO. “Regardless of their focus, museums need to be inclusive, empowering resources for people to make meaning of what they’re seeing, feeling and wondering about as they navigate this increasingly complicated world.”
Founded in 1799 as the East India Marine Society by Salem ship captains who traveled beyond Cape Horn to bring back and share works of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and India, PEM is now one of the largest and most innovative museums in the country. It’s also the longest continually operating museum in the United States.
Since its founding, PEM has grown and evolved while continuing to share creativity and spark curiosity with the community. Today, its mission is to celebrate outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind and stimulate the senses.
“PEM strives to create experiences that transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world,” said Whitney Van Dyke, PEM’s director of marketing and communications.
In addition to curating exhibits and experiences that address some of our most pressing social challenges, PEM is a place where its hundreds of thousands of annual visitors learn much about local history and how events that took place right here on the North Shore have significantly impacted humankind.
In all of its work, the museum serves as a connection point for the community. This became even more clear over the last several years, as nonprofit cultural organizations were compelled to be more and to do more.
During the pandemic, PEM opened its doors to serve as a community COVID vaccination and testing site and provided much needed personal protective equipment to area hospitals. They offered free memberships to frontline healthcare workers and partnered with the Salem Food Pantry to feed area families. PEM also partnered with The House of the Seven Gables to provide ventilated gathering spaces so the organization could safely offer its ESL and citizenship classes. And when local schools were closed, PEM launched Little Green Thumbs, an outdoor program that enabled children and families to learn more about horticulture and to plant alongside the museum’s head gardener.
“Fortifying ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually is increasingly important as we emerge from the pandemic and address community issues with resilience and resolve,” Roscoe Hartigan said.
For more than 220 years now, PEM has been serving the creative, intellectual and cultural needs of communities across Essex County – and beyond. Connecting with Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) has supported the museum’s role in working with others to make our region a better place.
“By partnering with ECCF,” said Van Dyke, “PEM is able to better connect with community leaders and collaboratively solve some of the most pressing challenges facing Essex County today.”