October 25, 2019

Reshaping Museum Representation in Lynn with Doneeca Thurston

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Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts Welcomes New Director Doneeca Thurston

At 29, Doneeca Thurston is not only the youngest director but also the first person of color to head operations at Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts. The position was formerly filled by Drew Russo, who became the city of Lynn’s personnel director in April of this year. 

For Doneeca, a Lynn native who has spent as much time working to bolster community in her home city as she has working along similar lines in downtown Salem, it’s an exciting achievement, and in some regards, a dream come true. 

“The board recognizes that Lynn is a majority-minority city, and we need to see that leadership,” Doneeca said. “The people who can bring about that change are the people who can best relate to who is there.”

As a young, black woman of color, she is the representation her city needs, and from this position she hopes to create opportunities for much needed change. 

Formerly the Creative Engagement Producer at the Peabody Essex Museum, where, for just shy of five years, she was responsible for keeping up with trends and the needs of the community, Doneeca felt she was more than ready to step into her new role at Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts. 

“I feel like museums have a social responsibility to really activate their communities and be a source of support where there might not be any,” she said. “We have a little more flexibility than some government agencies so we have to use that to our advantage.” 

In its nearly 125 year history, Lynn Museum has relied heavily upon its early traditions. The original Lynn Museum Historical Society was created as a way to preserve a way of life that existed prior to the influx of immigrants in the mid to late twentieth century, and since the cultural landscape of Lynn has changed so dramatically in the last thirty years, the collections no longer accurately represent the history of the people who currently live there. 

“We need to diversify. People need to see themselves reflected in these spaces.” Doneeca said. “And it can be really affirming to see yourself reflected in the staff and the exhibitions.” 

One of the exhibits that Doneeca would really like to see come through the museum is a project first introduced by Lynn Museum’s public engagement coordinator Sue Walker earlier this year. Sue has been working with the council of local community members about Black History in Lynn, and Doneeca hopes to bring this exhibition to Lynn Museum in Spring in time for student tours. 

Lynn’s Changing Cultural Landscape 

Anyone who has lived or worked in Lynn in the last few years probably has noticed a considerable shift in the city. Organizations like RAW Artworks, Cojuelos Productions, Beyond Walls, Arts After Hours, EforAll Lynn, and the Galleries at Lynn Arts, among others, have all played a hand in activating spaces in and around Lynn. A city once full of potential is now capitalizing on that potential, and the people and organizations are seeing a cultural rebirth. 

Doneeca’s first impressions with the museum were on a third grade trip with her school, and she is delighted that she has the unique position of not just having this early experience, but that she can now have a hand in shaping the exhibits that young students will see an experience in the coming years. 

Lynn Museum wasn’t the only organization that left an impression on Doneeca during her youth in the city, she also had a close connection to RAW Artworks, a youth arts organization, rooted in art therapy, that believes that all kids should be seen and heard. 

“RAW artworks happened at a time in my life where I was really struggling with my own identity and who I was,” She remembered, “I was resorting to self-harm because I couldn’t handle what was happening at school and at home. RAW was my light in the darkness.” 

After finishing the program, she eventually returned to mentor at RAW where she helped youth in the community figure out what their next steps were, and also, help them go through all the challenges involved with graduating high school and going to college. 

“Kids from Lynn are often automatically placed in this category of not being well behaved or necessarily intelligent,” Doneeca said. “So to have a person be here to help you and not assume anything about your character based on where you’re from or your background is really important.”

Community and public-facing organizations can have a considerable impact on the kids who come through their doors, and that’s a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. Doneeca hopes that Lynn Museum will become part of the community landscape in Lynn in a way that helps inspire kids to believe in themselves and see their own potential. 

It’s an exciting time for downtown Lynn, and having people like Doneeca in leadership positions representing the people who live and work and play in the city is a step in the right direction. 

Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com

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