Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art

  • Deadline / Program Start: 2022-12-09
  • Organization: Peabody Essex Museum
  • Organization Type: Arts Services Organization
  • Career Type: Arts, Culture Non-Profit Administrator
  • Grant / Salary: $90,000 - $120,000
  • Location: Salem, MA
  • Primary Discipline: Arts Education
  • Recurring: Array
  • URL: Link

In 2022, the Peabody Essex Museum received a significant gift to endow an American Decorative Art curatorial position. We are pleased to announce the search for the inaugural Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art. The successful candidate will be an inquisitive, exhibition and experience-focused curator who brings a bold approach to interpretation and scholarship. The Curator will supervise all aspects of developing the American Decorative Art collection and will contribute to thought leadership and an energizing vision for curatorial programs and museum initiatives.

PEM’s American decorative art and design collection spans four centuries of creative expression in the United States. The collection is known for the quality and regional focus of its historical materials, as well as its growing national representation of contemporary craft and design. The furniture collection is particularly well-known and includes rare and singular examples in a range of forms reflecting Salem’s significance as a major center for furniture production from 1650 to 1870. The collection also includes historical and contemporary examples in wood, glass, and textiles, as well as architecture and more.

The Curator of American Decorative Art will be an innovative storyteller, able to confidently engage diverse audiences with exhibitions and programs that compel new thinking about human creativity, material culture, social history and contemporary relevance. PEM is looking for an enterprising team player with an exploratory mind who, in addition to organizing rotations of the collection in the American gallery, will propose collections-based and traveling exhibitions as well as participate in a robust set of programs, organized collaboratively with staff in other departments.

A few of PEM’s 22 historic homes are currently open and interpreted for the public, while others may come online in the future. The American Decorative Art curator will have the opportunity to generate new interpretive ideas that activate these historic houses, and can look forward to developing a gallery dedicated to the American Decorative Art collection.

The curator will have the opportunity to build the collection through a combination of the Museum’s acquisition funds, support from a dedicated 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 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 and Native American art, and 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 on 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:
1. Ensure the ability of the collection to support PEM strategic goals far into the
2. Promote the collection as an intellectual, learning, and research resource for the benefit of the public;
3. Welcome audiences of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations,
sexual orientations and gender identifications to the museum;
4. 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;
5. Provide adequate and expanding documentation of the collection;
6. Strategically add works to the collection to expand its scope and build on existing strengths; and
7. 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.
• MA; PhD degree in Art History or the Humanities preferred.

Essential Experience and Abilities
• Well-developed connoisseurship and recognized expertise and passion for American decorative art and material culture, and a robust professional network.
● Enthusiasm for new forms of engagement in curatorial practice and multidisciplinary thinking.
● Resourcefulness and nimbleness; able to work independently, self-directed, and 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 December 9, 2022, to: Connie Rosemont, 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.