Museum Job Spotlight: Melinda McCrary

We’re profiling interesting jobs in the museum field to show the range of responsibilities and opportunities available.  Have an awesome museum job you want to share? Email [email protected]!

Image Credit: Michael Henry of Your Beautiful Life Photography

My name is… Melinda McCrary
The name of my museum is… Richmond Museum of History
My job title is… Executive Director

What do you mostly work on?

A little bit of everything but lately I have been focused on development and grant writing.

Please give a quick overview of your department/museum.

The quintessential local history museum founded in the 1950s to honor the pioneer landowners, business people, and accomplishments of the World War II Home Front.

What is the best advice you ever received from a museum professional?

“You may never work in a large museum” was the response from a Museum Studies professor to my whining about how I so badly wanted a position at a large encyclopedic museum. It was the last thing I wanted to hear at the time, but it forced me to self-reflect and be open to a greater range of possibilities.

What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?

Don’t give up or feel discouraged about finding a job or advancing in the museum field! Go beyond your comfort zone and what you know so you can learn everything possible about the museum field.

What is your earliest memory of being in a museum?

I love this question! My earliest memory of a museum is visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield Illinois about 1986. I learned how Abe was so tall he had to sleep diagonally on his bed. I was SUPER impressed. President Lincoln remains one of my personal heroes to this day. See how local history can do that?

How did you find your way into the museum industry?

Via archaeology and anthropology. I worked as an archaeologist for several years before I went back to school to pursue a Museum Studies degree at San Francisco State University. I wanted to focus more on the educational potential of human material culture, so I focused on collections management and curation in my program. (Looking back I wish I would have taken more classes on leadership and management!)

What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?

So hard to choose! Recently, I have been thinking a lot about a wonderfully carved pebble figurine excavated from a prehistoric shell mound on Brooks Island, located in the San Francisco Bay just off our Richmond’s bayshore. The figurine consists of an obviously female torso tattooed in a manner consistent with historical and ethnographic records of Ohlone people. I call her the Lady of Brooks Island.

One reason I find the figurine so fascinating is that it combines my interests of archaeology, museums and native people. There is also an aura of mystery surrounding the figurine. Who made her? What compelled people to make her? Was she simply a toy or did she have a deeper meaning to the Ohlone people? We will likely never know the answers to most of these questions, but to pose them reflects a little of the diversity of the human experience. How do we go about interpreting an artifact for which so many questions remain? I don’t have the answer to that yet. Check back in a couple years.

Melinda and museum board members Jeff Wright and Virgil Weekes. BPP Reception. Image: Ellen Gailing

What inspires you about your museum’s mission?

I love local history because it demonstrates to people that exceptional feats have been accomplished right where they live and inspires them to achieve the same in their own lives. I tell people here in Richmond, California you don’t have to travel to San Francisco for great history. You can find amazing history right in your own town.

Thanks, Melinda!