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Message from the President: The Curious Life

Category: Museum Magazine
A headshot of Marilyn Jackson
Marilyn Jackson is AAM's tenth President & CEO

This article originally appeared in Museum magazine’s May/June 2024 issuea benefit of AAM membership.

Hello, Museum readers! I’m delighted to address you for the first time as AAM’s new President and CEO. As I dive into the role, I look forward to meeting many of you and hearing about your opportunities and successes as we create a shared vision for the next phase of our Alliance. In the meantime, I want to introduce myself briefly by sharing a story about what first brought me to this field.

My first museum memory dates back to the 1970s, when my mother took me and my younger twin brothers to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see “Treasures of Tutankhamun,” the legendary exhibition that introduced America to King Tut. We traveled a fair distance from our neighborhood in Brooklyn to the fancy Upper East Side of Manhattan. Still, my mother, a schoolteacher who always prioritized education and informal learning experiences, promised it would be worth the trip. Even my usually rambunctious brothers were quiet and attentive as she squeezed our hands and told us how special what we were about to see would be, the thousands-of-years-old artifacts and everything they revealed about how people had once lived and worshipped.

As we entered the exhibition, I felt like I had gone through a portal directly to ancient Egypt. I studied the vibrant, unfamiliar objects on display with fascination, envisioning the rich civilization they must have come from. I felt my mind expanding as I began to think more about Egypt and its place in the world. If this was just one fraction of Africa, how many other mesmerizing cultures and stories must this huge continent contain? From that moment, I was hooked on history, and each fact I discovered opened the door to a new question.

Decades later, as a museum professional, I began to see that this was far from an isolated case. It was just one example of the primary ways museums change lives: expanding knowledge and piquing curiosity. And curiosity is no small thing. It drives new ideas and leads us to create new innovations, systems, and ways of working. Research tells us it fosters practical life outcomes, self-actualization, and prosocial effects.

As we delve into the intersection of museums, health, and wellbeing—the central focus of this year’s AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo and this magazine issue—it’s essential to consider how we can amplify this impact within our communities. We must find novel ways to welcome people into our spaces and then show them that we’re trustworthy and have something to offer. I’ve been lucky to see this in action several times in my own career, such as through the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s Teen Program, which turns local students into fixtures of the museum community and helps them reshape their perspective on careers and higher education. Remarkably, the cost of such initiatives can be as minimal as repurposing unused space, exemplified by the Muhammad Ali Center’s decision to offer classrooms to the Decode Project, a local tutoring program supporting dyslexic learners.

As you contemplate how you can turn your museum into a community hub, converting more and more people to the curious life as you expose them to the immersive yet factual storytelling that museums and cultural institutions deliver, I hope you will tap into the experience and wisdom of your museum peers. Just as we are stronger in our personal lives when connected to our communities, we are stronger as a field when we work together, rooting for each other’s success. Please take full advantage of the rich examples and insights about promoting health and wellbeing in this issue and join us in Baltimore for many more. Coming together to thrive is what AAM is all about and what I’m most excited about as I take the reins.


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