Jane Pickering has been named executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, a new consortium that will draw on faculty and staff expertise and the collections of six partner museums.

Courtesy of Jane Pickering

Campus & Community

A director for Museums of Science and Culture

5 min read

Jane Pickering to lead new six-partner consortium

Dean Michael D. Smith of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) announced today that Jane Pickering has been named executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. Pickering is currently deputy director and director of public programs at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

In the spring of 2012, Smith, in collaboration with faculty leaders of the individual FAS museums, announced a new consortium, the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture (HMSC), to develop a strong, coordinated public face for these collections. The FAS museums include some of the world’s premier collections in many disciplines. The faculty and staff associated with the collections are widely recognized for their scholarship.

“Harvard’s collections are some of our most unique and valuable resources, benefiting in some instances from centuries of faculty-led collection development and scholarship,” said Smith, who is also John H. Finley Jr. Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The overriding goal of the new Harvard Museums of Science and Culture is to enable the easy utilization of these tremendous resources in our teaching and scholarship, and to share them with the public. Under the leadership of Jane Pickering, Harvard is launching a new model for university museums, one that has the potential to be so much more than the sum of its parts.”

The HMSC will draw on faculty and staff expertise, and the collections of six partner museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum (which have already been collaborating as the Harvard Museum of Natural History), and the Semitic Museum, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

At the Yale Peabody, Pickering was responsible for all public programming and exhibitions, front-of-house activities, and general administration.  Her career spans more than 20 years in museums at Oxford University (U.K.) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as Yale, and she developed extensive expertise in outreach and education for a broad audience.

“I am thrilled to be joining Harvard. The University’s vision, to bring together the public activities of six world-class museums and their tremendous collections, is a unique opportunity, and it is an amazing privilege to be chosen to lead this exciting new venture,” Pickering said.

“Universities provide an environment that enables the type of risk taking and experimentation that together with a deep commitment to interdisciplinary work can foster truly great and innovative museum programming. Building on the successes of the past, I look forward to working with faculty, students, and staff at Harvard and the wider community to help realize that potential.”

Pickering will take over for interim executive director David Ellis. Ellis, a former president of Lafayette College and president of the Museum of Science, Boston, was brought in to lead HMSC on a temporary basis while a national search for a permanent executive director was conducted.

“I want to thank David Ellis for his outstanding leadership, and for providing his deep expertise and thoughtful guidance during this transition,” said Smith. “It is because of David’s work with the museum staff and faculty that we are able to embark on this new model for university museums.”

Pickering began her career as the assistant curator of zoological collections at the Oxford Museum of Natural History in 1989, before becoming director of the MIT Museum. In 2002, she became director of public programs at Yale’s Peabody, and in 2004 added the responsibilities of deputy director.

Pickering has an M.A. degree in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge and an M.S. in museum studies from the University of Leicester. She is an associate of the U.K. Museums Association and an alumna of the Getty Leadership Program’s Museum Management Institute.

James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, chaired the faculty executive board that worked to develop the HMSC consortium.

“Taking their lead from Dean Smith, and consulting widely with colleagues, the faculty directors of the six partner museums developed over the past year a bold vision for this new consortium. It was their hope that they could attract an accomplished museum director to head this venture, and I believe that Dean Smith and they chose extremely well with Jane Pickering. Her broad experience in university-based museums, from curator to director, and her accomplishments in each of these roles bodes well for a swift and steady launch of the HMSC under her leadership,” McCarthy said.

The executive director has overall responsibility for the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. In collaboration with faculty leaders of the parent museums and key stakeholders, the executive director is responsible for the public-facing functions of the museums, including exhibits, education, public programs, development, and administration and operations.

“This new era of coordination of the exhibition and outreach programs of the FAS museums on Oxford and Divinity avenues offers exciting new opportunities for teaching and scholarship within Harvard and for the public who use these museums,” McCarthy said.  “Faculty within the departments associated with the museums, as well as other faculty all across the FAS, will appreciate the new ease of access to these resources for use in Harvard courses. Moreover, the public, from school students and teachers to interested adults, will benefit from new windows into the research of faculty who know and understand the value of the objects and specimens in these museums’ world-class collections.”