Illuminating a Community
Lynn Museum director Doneeca Thurston ’12 brings to light recent hidden history
by Matt Hughes

As the director of the Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts in Lynn, Mass., Doneeca Thurston ’12’s work is tied inextricably to the community around her — not only to its colonial past but to the narratives that reverberate in the neighborhood today.

“Lynn has evolved so much over time, and some of those more recent histories are missing from our permanent collection,” Thurston says. “Some of the people who live in our neighborhood are not visible in this space, so we use our exhibitions to celebrate the histories of the people who are here today — to become more of an ally and supporter in the community.”

That commitment to community not only includes work developing exhibitions such as Industry & Craft: People at Work in Lynn and Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Lynn. It extends to her part-time docent staff.

Doneeca Thurston ’12
Photo: Christopher Padgett/Citizen Salem
Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts Director Doneeca Thurston ’12 reduced her work hours to keep her staff employed.

When COVID-19 shuttered the museum and its adjacent arts space from March to late June, Thurston, the museum’s only full-time employee, knew she couldn’t furlough staff without bearing some of the burden herself.

“Being a small nonprofit, staffing is one of our biggest expenses — my salary in particular,” Thurston says. “They needed to know I’m in this with them.”

So she reduced her hours and took a part-time job at Trader Joe’s, allowing more staff members to eventually return to work.

As she prepared for reopening, Thurston was excited to again unite Lynn residents with the history around them. She says her passion for public history began at Bucknell, where a course with history professor Leslie Patrick led to a history major, then a master’s in public history at Northeastern University and five years developing public programs at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

“It’s like teaching, but with more room to be creative and meet people where they’re at,” Thurston says of her work. “I love creating special moments where people who historically have never accessed museums are introduced to new things about the world — or themselves.”