Meet Susie Thornberry. She is the Assistant Director at Imperial War Museums where she leads public engagement for adults, young people, schools, and families across the five museums. Her extensive experience in arts, museums, festivals, and heritage includes roles with Historic Royal Palaces, Artichoke, and Battersea Arts Centre. In 2016, she was producer of London’s Burning, a festival to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, including London 1666 a 120-metre-long sculpture created by hundreds of young Londoners which was spectacularly set alight on the River Thames. In 2018, Susie became a Commissioner of Historic England.
Today, Susie and I talk about creating space and exploring the human impact of conflict through art. The irony of touching that last topic today on September 11th is not lost on me. It hits me in the feels and takes me back to a very sad, but life-changing, time in NYC for countless others and me.
We also dive into Susie’s role at Imperial War Museums, because seriously, it’s an incredibly rad role and not entirely shocking that Susie's in it when you learn more about her zigs and zags. We also discuss the role of museums in the public space and as perspective builders. After all, we could all use a change in perspective sometimes, don’t you think?
Of course, we touch on topics related to burnout and living life on your own terms, like how to courageously say I don't know, mitigating over-stimulation by innate curiosity, and curiously meanadering. You’ll find out what all of that means when you listen to this episode.
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Selected link love + resources from the episode:
London's Burning (2016 art installation/festival)
David Mitchell: “Trees're always a relief, after people.”
Start with Why, Simon Sinek (book)
George Bernard Shaw: “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
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All of this is from Susie (with some minor edits for readability).
(00:11:54) [On the Core Principles at IWM] We have some core principles: be courageous, be authoritative, be relevant and be empathetic. We always have these in mind and try to provide a balanced view.
(00:13:10) I have to be unafraid to ask difficult questions or admit when I don't know things. That often involves putting my hand up and saying, ‘I'm the only person in this room that doesn't know.’
(00:16:10) [At the IWM] We encourage people to give us feedback, and we bring audiences to be focus groups. I love that. I love it when either the artists or audiences we encounter reveal something that we didn't know about our collection to us. I think this is my favorite thing.
(00:19:40) [On the various collections and history exhibits at IWM] It's just something much broader and very interesting about where we were and where we are.
(00:30:34) I run a lot. Running lets me notice things that I wouldn't notice otherwise. That kind of motion and taking that time to myself to just go and run - I find that really, really helpful. It gives me the headspace that I need.
(00:34:39) I've been a wedding planner. I used to work in jewelry and sell diamonds. I have worked in theater. I have worked in museums. Each one of those experiences have something in common: Asking people to look [at something] differently.
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