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      PEMcast | October 31, 2019

      PEMcast 13: #newpem

      Dinah Cardin

      Written by

      Dinah Cardin


      It’s been a while since we produced an episode of the PEMcast.

      As your co-hosts, Chip Van Dyke and I are back with a story about PEM’s next chapter. At 220 years old, the museum’s leadership and staff are taking a breather to figure out what’s next. The museum has been on a 26-year campaign to raise money, to grow and expand. This episode leads us through key moments this fall in the opening of our new 40,000 square-foot wing with staff reflections and PEM’s new director, Brian Kennedy, sharing his thoughts on how he will involve the community at large to move PEM forward.

      Street performers greet visitors outside PEM on opening weekend of the new wing in September. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      PEM staffer Emily Larsen paints a greeting for visitors. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      It’s been a lot of work for our staff over the last few months as we prepared for the new wing opening, but camaraderie has been built.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      Brian Kennedy speaks to the staff on his first day. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Brian Kennedy speaks to the staff on his first day. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      In September, Brian led the community in replacing a two-ton anchor that had lived in front of East India Marine Hall since 1906. It was removed for construction and came back to much fanfare.

      A symbol of PEM's maritime past, the two-ton anchor is lowered into place outside East India Marine Hall. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Brian Kennedy addresses the assembled crowd, remembering that PEM was founded by sea captains from Salem. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
      A crowd of PEM staff and local residents gathers for the group shot. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Fifteen thousand people from the community passed through our doors over a four-day opening celebration.

      A crowd of PEM staff and local residents gathers for the group shot. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Fifteen thousand people from the community passed through our doors over a four-day opening celebration.

      Brian has asked the staff to think like the museum’s founders, to be bold, to be curious. To connect the global beginnings of our museum with the local community around us. Moving in concentric circles from the heart of the museum, we are in the process of engaging the entire PEM community to map the future of one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in the country.

      PEM's conservation team works on the museum's beloved Rush figurehead for the new maritime gallery. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      We hope you’ll visit us in person. We want to hear from you. Write to us at

      PEM's conservation team works on the museum's beloved Rush figurehead for the new maritime gallery. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      PEMcast 13: New PEM

      Brian Kennedy: Hello, and thank you for calling the Peabody Essex Museum. I am Brian Kennedy, the museum director. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM, and closed on Mondays with the exception of holidays. For more information, this is a...I did it again. Take two. Hello, and thank you for...

      Chip Van Dyke: Brian is two months into his new job as PEM's director and CEO. He's the first new director in 26 years.

      Brian: Please listen carefully to the following options. Para información español, por favor, aprima el número uno. If you're trying to reach a staff member or...

      Dinah Cardin: You would think a new director would have more important things to do than record a voicemail greeting, but Brian thinks otherwise.

      Brian: From a psychological point of view, people do really think you're answering the phone, which of course you are, but not all the time. It makes us more warm and welcoming, so that's why I like to do it. Is that hash?

      Tiffany Yee: Pound and...

      Brian: We need to write down "pound." Take three.

      [background music]

      Chip: With new leadership, institutions can almost always expect changes, both large and small. What does change look like for a 200-year-old institution like PEM? What should it look like? Then there's the question of where to begin. Where would you begin?

      Dinah: Welcome to the "PEMcast," conversations and stories for the culturally curious. From the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, I'm Dinah Cardin.

      Chip: I'm Chip Van Dyke. A lot's happened since we were last on mic together, Dinah. We just opened a 40,000-square-foot new wing of PEM, and it has been grueling, but we made it. [laughs] It's been a long road. We have a new director. We have all this new gallery space. We have event spaces that are new.

      Dinah: We have three new galleries dedicated exclusively to PEM's vast collection, a new atrium, and you can walk right through it to a new garden. Everything feels really fresh right now. It's amazing how much it feels like day one, but...

      Chip: We're over two centuries old.

      Dinah: Yeah.

      Chip: Which got us thinking, "What is Brian's plan for all of this?"

      Dinah: He's at the helm of a ship he just boarded.

      Chip: Is it business as usual? Are we just full speed ahead, or is there something else going on? How do we know?

      Dinah: Then, right on cue, we get an email. It's from Brian.

      Brian: Dear PEM colleagues, over the next while, as I'm learning about PEM, I'd also like to learn more about each of you. Please take a moment from your day sometime soon -- when you can -- and send me a short memo that is all about you. Add a photo, drawings, or anything you like.

      Write what you'd like me to know about your PEM job, your career, your special talents, your family, hobbies, pets. Any advice for me as your new director and about whatever...


      Chip: Brian got a huge response from this email.

      Dinah: Hundreds of replies. He prints them out, and he carries them around to board meetings in a big binder. He shares these personal stories of all of us who currently work at the museum. Next, Brian invited staffers to participate in roundtable discussions. This is where we talked about PEM's place in the world and some of our favorite memories of working here at the museum.

      Brian: Let me just pick at random. To the question, "What are your best memories of PEM?" Here's one. The reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing at the museum, the Nick Cave dance party, the gala, the idea of walking to work. You can see very quickly how personal this become.

      Dinah: After the roundtable discussions, we asked PEM staffers to share some of their thoughts with us.

      Scott: Brian coming in and doing these type of exercises with the entire staff has really broken down a lot of barriers between departments or even within departments.

      Blair: One of the reasons we can talk effectively on so many of these strategic questions of, "For whom is PEM," is that we are engaged in the museum world, we are engaged in our civic communities, we are engaged with each other socially, and we bring that to our job here at PEM every single day.

      Caryn: The people of PEM are our greatest asset. I know I, personally, am very appreciative of the leadership bringing us all together, making sure everybody who wants to be heard is being heard.

      Brian: A lot of my thinking everywhere I am is about how to build community. You build community when people know you, when they feel comfortable with you. An awful lot of the things that we have to do at the beginning are to build on what we've done over the years, but really emphasize the location.

      We're in Salem, Massachusetts. Therefore, in a sort of series of concentric circles coming out from where the museum is, we need to continually engage the world.

      Dinah: Simply put, Brian is talking about meeting with people, listening to people, starting with the inner circles, the board of trustees, the staff, and then working his way outwards into Salem and beyond.

      Chip: Engaging those concentric circles of people is Brian's strategy for discovering what needs to change, what needs to stay the same, and to define this next chapter in PEM's story.

      Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, people of Salem...


      Brian: ...welcome, and thank you all for joining us today.

      Dinah: It's September 16th, 2019, just two weeks before the opening of our brand new wing, and Brian is already engaging with the concentric circle right outside the museum walls, the community of Salem.

      Chip: A large crowd is gathering in front of PEM's historic East India Marine Hall. In front of them, a much-beloved two-ton anchor removed during construction is being slowly lowered back into place.

      Brian: As we drop anchor today, we're establishing a new era for the museum.

      Researcher: It's East India Marine Hall, and to have something maritime in front is just terrific. For me, it's personal. It's...

      Dinah: What does it mean to see it coming back?

      Researcher: [laughs] It means everything.

      Writer: I live in Rockport. I live not far away. It's just an amazing thing to see history literally happening in front of you. When you're writing so much about things that have happened before, it's so nice to also be up-to-date on current events and things.

      Dinah: What can you tell us about the book? [laughs]

      Writer: Oh, no, I'm doing a graphic novel on Salem's history.

      Woman: We've been coming to the museum since we paid a quarter to get in on Saturdays. Well, I was from Peabody, so I had to pay 25 cents.

      Man: My parents would always walk around downtown and say, "You'd meet me by the anchor, because it's an easy point, plus it's in the center of downtown. You'd be able to go anywhere you wanted from here to get a dinner or something."

      Woman: It's nice to see that, in addition to all the new, wonderful developments that they are keeping a piece of the past.

      Man: Very heavy piece of the past.

      Brian: Taking the idea of looking at PEM, and everything about it, we can then analyze what we've been doing before we move to that greater understanding, which is a call to action. That's what we'll be doing over the next while. We'll need a lot of input and I've welcomed everybody to be in touch with us and we'll be trying to reach out to get lots of different points of view.

      There are people who walk past the museum and we'd love them to know about it and to come in. There are people who live in Salem who could come in free any day of the weekend and don't. That's not their issue. We want them to come in to our museum, so it's about how we go about the invitation.

      [background music]

      Brian: Good morning, everybody. The first thing I'm going to invite you to do is, why don't you come around? Stay in the shade, but just in front of me here.

      Chip: Two weeks after the anchor dropped, the new wing celebration began. Wearing red "I Heart PEM" t-shirts, Brian and PEM staff members threw opened the doors.

      Brian: Are you ready?


      Brian: Our opening weekend celebration officially kicks off the moment these children race through the door...

      Dinah: During our opening festivities, PEM welcomed 15,000 people into the new wing.

      How has opening began?

      Bethany: [laughs] It was the best.


      Blair: To be able to throw the doors wide open, stand there in "I Heart PEM" red shirts felt really good to staff. I think it felt really good to people on the street that we encouraged to come in and who had an excellent time and would wander out for hours later.

      You open an institution expansion like this once in your lifetime. We, as staff people have the opportunity to feel proud of what we have accomplished. That felt awesome.

      [background music]

      Brian: PEM's founders, many of whom were captains, sea captains from Salem, they set off around the world at a time when that was very risky, dangerous, expensive and uncharted, but the world they encountered was also astonishing, surprising and brimming with possibility, which brings us to today.

      Dinah: Today, PEM wants to hear from you.

      Chip: Visit us in person, or online at You can also follow along on social media and share your PEM stories with us using the #newpem.

      Dinah: Find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

      Chip: Music for today's podcast by Chad Crouch. You can find him on the Web at

      Brian: For more information, visit us online at That's P-E-M . O-R-G. We'll see what that sounds like. It should be OK. I can change it again.

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