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3 Questions For Brian Kennedy – Peabody Essex Museum CEO

Brian Kennedy of the PEM Answers Our Questions

The October Season, A Salem Vision, Collaboration With The City

By William Legault


Brian Kennedy, born in Dublin, Ireland and seasoned in the world of museums around the globe has taken the reins at the Peabody Essex Museum. He arrives at a critical time not only for the museum itself, with its newly opened 40,000 square foot wing, but also for its relationship with Salem and its people. Recent years have found that relationship to be fractured as the PEMs mission became more focused on art rather than on the original missions of the multiple historic foundations on which it was built.

Mr. Kennedy was kind enough to receive and answers our questions. We thank him and the PEM staff for being accommodating to our local little social media operation.


SALEM DIGESTThe October season in Salem, which actually runs from mid-September to mid-November these days may discourage some museum patrons from visiting during that time. Will there be any consideration to having the PEM participate more in the festivities and public events in the coming years in order to change that?


It has seemed to me somewhat ironic that it can be suggested that the October season discourages some museum patrons from visiting, presumably due to challenges of parking availability, when in fact about 500,000 people visit Salem during the same time and this does not seem to stop them. What is really at issue here is that programming at PEM has been largely differentiated from programming associated with the Haunted Happenings month of activity and festivity. In future years, the Peabody Essex Museum will seek to do some programming related to Haunted Happenings so that we can attract those who currently come to Salem during the period from mid-September to mid-November.

SALEM DIGEST:  “I look forward to ensuring PEM continues to be a vital resource, a hub of innovation, and a force of good in the world for years to come.” This is a quote of yours from an interview with Art News after being announced as the new chief at PEM. Could you expand on that and tell us how Salem and it’s rich history can fit into that vision?


Salem is an extraordinary city with a rich and wonderful history. Its Native American foundations, its establishment as a city in 1626, the infamous witch trials which took place in 1692/3 in Salem Village (Danvers), and the hugely successful period as a trading port in the late 18th and early 19th century, which gave the city its splendid architecture and prosperity, including the foundations of the Peabody Essex Museum: all these provide as rich a history as you can find in any American city. This history presents a vital resource, and Salem has long been a hub of creativity and exploration, reaching across the world. Salem is a city of peace, tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and I hope that PEM will be a leading participant in all of this in the years to come.

SALEM DIGEST:  The history of Salem did not end with it’s maritime era. As PEM moves forward, will it be possible blend the original missions of the East India Marine Society and the Essex Institute somehow work with the City to create a space dedicated the more recent history of Salem and it inhabitants?


The history of Salem did not end with its maritime era, though this provides one of the key foundations for its prosperity. The Salem Marine Society, the East India Marine Society, and then the Peabody Museum, the Peabody Academy of Science, and since 1992 the fusion that created the Peabody Essex Museum, each present part of a complicated but truly splendid history. It offers the opportunity to reflect the history of Salem, Essex County, and the activities of inhabitants who traveled around the world and brought back stories and objects of material culture, including contemporary art. PEM has a great future and one of the most intriguing histories. These will help it to continue to develop its position among the foremost American museums. PEM has an opportunity for blending all of its parts, leveraging collaboration and partnerships in the years to come.

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