Honoring Excellence in the Field: An Interview with Julie K. Stein

By Kate Skelly

Dr. Julie K. Stein, Executive Director of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture received the 2015 WMA Director’s Chair Award. Julie has been an invaluable leader to the Western Museums Association, and has served as a WMA Treasurer and President. In this interview, Julie shares her thoughts about leadership in the field and the future of museums.

What do you think your greatest accomplishment in the museum field has been?

Building the “dream” that will become the new Burke Museum is my greatest accomplishment (and I can only hope that completion of the actual building becomes an even greater one). The Burke’s current facility has served us well, but without HVAC, adequate storage space, and with barriers to thrilling visitor experiences, we need to create a new building. Since I became the Executive Director I have worked with an amazing team to move us toward that goal. We are planning to break ground next summer and are very excited about the possibilities


What does it mean to be a leader within a museum?

Leaders keep their focus on the movements necessary to keep the mission and vision alive. Sometimes that requires hard choices, and even unpopular ones, but most importantly it requires surrounding yourself with a great team, making decisions in a timely fashion, and with as much transparency as possible.

How can museum professionals become leaders at any career level?

Help the institution become more efficient and effective with respect to fulfilling its mission. Work together as a team and celebrate everyone’s contributions. Don’t worry about getting credit for your work. In fact, as often as possible give credit to the team. Leaders motivate others no matter the level.

From your perspective, what are some tips for museum professionals working with boards or other governing bodies?

Get to know your board as individual people with families and lives of their own, and understand each board member’s passion for the organization. Give the board meaningful work to do and listen to their advice. Treat the board as friends and advisors (which they should be).

What do you think is the most pressing issue that museums are currently facing?

Being relevant in our society today, and participating in the meaningful conversations taking place in our lives. Ask your community “what do you talk about at your dinner table?”. Then think about how our museums can contribute to those issues.

What issues do you foresee museums dealing with in the future?

The possibilities are unlimited. We don’t even know the questions that will be important in 50 years. We can only hope that we have collected the right objects to help answer them.

What is the best way to contribute to the future of the museum field?

Invest in emerging professionals and coworkers on a daily basis.

Do you have any other advice for emerging museum professionals?

Work hard as a member of the team, and get as much experience as possible. Don’t say that you know how to do something, but rather say “I would like to help work on that problem with you”.




Love you, Julie!

Thank you for your wonderful leadership for our field!

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Just want to see if you are a robot.