For more than 37 years Dana Thorpe has worked in museums across the country, spending most of that time leading midsize museums specializing in history. Thorpe, who is CEO of the Upcountry History Museum, has been there since 2013.
What’s the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is envisioning and managing the interconnections between history and people. As the “keeper” of the Upcountry’s history, the museum and its dedicated team aspire every day to deliver meaningful, relevant and engaging history experiences through an aggressive exhibition and program schedule.
What about the worst?
The worst part of my job is recognizing that important pieces of our shared history are lost or destroyed daily. The museum actively encourages community members to contact the museum or other cultural arts organizations prior to disposing of objects and/or archival materials.
What inspired you to pursue working in museums?
My passion for the museum field began when I was in the seventh grade and was fueled by an eighth-grade family road-trip vacation that was filled with East Coast museum stops. An amazing high school history teacher and supportive parents further inspired me to pursue a degree in museum studies. My original career intent was to hone my skills as a curator of collections. Following the completion of my undergraduate degree in early American history and graduate degree in applied history, my career path took an unexpected turn when I was offered the executive director position at a historic site on the eastern shore of Maryland. I learned so much about myself and the museum field in my first leadership position – it was an amazing experience that 37 years later continues to inspire and ground me in my role and responsibilities as a museum administrator. And I would be remiss if I didn’t share that I wouldn’t still be on this rewarding journey if it wasn’t for the incredible people that inspire and encourage me – my husband, children, staff, colleagues, donors, sponsors and visitors.
What’s your typical day at work like?
As the museum’s CEO, I am responsible for the daily operations of the museum, for long-term planning, policies and for the museum’s fiscal health. I represent the museum at meetings with other museums, business and civic communities, and the museum’s Board of Directors. I ensure that the museum adheres to state and federal guidelines for safety in the workplace and hiring practices, as well as industry recommendations concerning the acquisitions and care of objects within the museum. My typical day embraces all of the aforementioned in varying degrees — no two days are ever the same — and I flourish on the hectic, creative and often stressful pace.
What is something a lot of people get wrong about your job?
So often I am told that “it must be fun and easy to lead a museum.” As a museum CEO for the majority of my life, I can attest that it is a privilege to work in a museum; however, with the CEO title comes tremendous responsibility to the collection, the organization, the staff and the community. A strong case can be made that the museum is more relevant today than it has ever been. From addressing key social issues to transforming how we see the future, the Upcountry History Museum has an increased responsibility to reflect and shape our society. The museum is up for the task and will continue to serve and lead in helping people make meaningful, engaging and personal connections to history.
A Day in the Life is an occasional series profiling the people in our community doing the ordinary – and extraordinary – jobs that need doing. Read previous Day in the Life profiles.