Press \\ Press Release

'Lifting the Sky' at PEM November 4

Released October 11, 2023

Honor PEM Prize recipient Marie Watt (Seneca and German-Scots) and PEM trustee emeritus Robert N. Shapiro with dinner, live auction, immersive experiences and guest chef

– On November 4, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Lifting the Sky, a fundraising event dedicated to artistic expression and our creative community, honoring artist and PEM Prize recipient Marie Watt (Seneca and German-Scots) and Trustee Emeritus and former president of PEM's Board of Trustees Robert N. Shapiro. Lifting the Sky features a dinner, as well as drinks and bites by chef Lydia Shire, a live auction, a paddle raise for PEM initiatives, and an after-party with live music, dancing, and immersive experiences. Tickets are available for both the Dinner + Dance Party (6 pm to midnight) or simply the Dance Party (8:30 pm to midnight). All proceeds benefit PEM’s programs, exhibitions and initiatives.

Founded in 2021, the PEM Prize recognizes artists whose work explores the catalytic relationship between creativity and civic engagement. This year’s recipient, Marie Watt, is an interdisciplinary artist who explores the intersection of history, community and storytelling by drawing upon history, biography, Haudenosaunee protofeminism and Indigenous teachings. In 2019, Watt led a community sewing circle at PEM to co-create elements for PEM-commissioned artwork from her Companion Species series. The work is currently on view in PEM’s award-winning installation, On This Ground: Being and Belonging in America. Over the next year, Watt will create another collaborative artwork — a site-specific jingle cloud sculpture — with the PEM community, scheduled to debut at the 2024 Salem Arts Festival.

The name of PEM’s fundraising event, Lifting the Sky, is drawn from a story Watt first heard from Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert. As the narrative goes, the sky was starting to press down and overwhelm the world with darkness. It became incumbent on the people — who spoke different languages and didn’t necessarily understand one another — to find a common vocabulary, even just one phrase, that would allow them to work together. The word they found was yəhaw̓, which means to proceed, to go forward, to do. Working together using sticks and saying that one word, yəhaw̓, with group effort, they pushed up the sky. These clouds are lifted together, hoisted by many hands just as they were created by many hands. They are first steps in a rhythm of healing and gathering, of being and hearing together.

Tickets and additional information are available at:

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Benefactor Sponsors

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Patron Sponsors
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Supporter Sponsors
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Artists change the way we see and interact with the world. The PEM Prize will be presented to artists from any field whose work explores the catalytic relationship between creativity and civic engagement. Reinvigorating and reimagining the communities in which we live, these artists are leaders, connecting us to the possibilities that exist for a more inclusive and understanding world.

Besides receiving a cash award, the PEM Prize recipient will work with the museum on a project or series of projects that will be accessible to all. While each project will assume a different form, PEM Prize awardees will be individuals or groups who strive to deepen our global cultural connections, ignite our imaginations and inspire us to action.

The PEM Prize awardee is selected by a committee of museum staff members and leadership for their use of creative expression in civic engagement. Learn more at:

Marie Watt is an American artist. She is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians and also has German-Scot ancestry. Her interdisciplinary work draws from history, biography, Haudenosaunee protofeminism and Indigenous teachings; in it, she explores the intersection of history, community and storytelling. Through collaborative actions, she instigates multigenerational and cross-disciplinary conversations that might create a lens and conversation for understanding connectedness to place, one another and the universe. Watt holds an MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University; she also has degrees from Willamette University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2016, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Willamette University.

Selected collections include the Peabody Essex Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, the Crystal Bridges Museum, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and Renwick Gallery, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum and the Portland Art Museum. She is represented by PDX Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon; Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, California; and Marc Straus Gallery in New York City, New York. Learn more at

Robert Shapiro began his involvement with PEM’s predecessor organization, the Essex Institute, serving as Trustee from 1986 to 1992. He served in leadership roles, including Chair, on PEM’s Board for 29 years, from 1993 to 2022, and is currently a Trustee Emeritus. As a member of PEM’s Board of Trustees, Shapiro helped form and guide some of the museum’s most ambitious and successful expansion projects, transforming the PEM into the national and global institution that it is today. Shapiro has served on PEM’s American Decorative Arts and Library Visiting Committees and numerous Board Committees, including Collections, Compensation, Executive, Finance, Investment, Steering, and Development, and has been a loyal and longtime supporter of PEM’s exhibitions, acquisitions, programs, East India Marine Associates, and the Nathaniel Bowditch Society (PEM’s legacy giving program). In 2007, he established the Edna Shapiro Fund for American Art and Architecture, in honor of his late mother Edna Shapiro, who was a docent at the Essex Institute. In 2012, he established the Shapiro Endowment for Innovation and in 2022, he established The Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Arts endowment to ensure PEM’s American Decorative Arts program continues to thrive in perpetuity.

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform 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 and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, 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, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, Asian, and African art, 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 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. HOURS: Open Thursday–Monday, 10 am–5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Whitney Van Dyke | Director of Marketing & Communications | | 617-259-6722