David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Julie Stein

Julie Stein

Executive Director, Professor
Burke Museum, Anthropology, College of Arts & Sciences

Nominated by Robert Stacey. Professor of History and Dean Emeritus, College of Arts and Sciences

Awarded 2022

Professor Julie Stein has served as Executive Director of the Burke Museum for 15 years. She will retire as ED in March, 2022. During her term as ED, she has transformed the Museum in myriad ways that make her a worthy candidate for the Thorud Leadership Award. She has raised approximately $100M, half from the State of Washington and half from gifts and grants, enabling the construction of a completely new building to house the Burke’s collections. By appointing for the first time a full-time Tribal Liaison Officer for the Museum and overseeing the creation of the Native American Advisory Board (NAAB), she has built strong and mutually supportive relationships between the Burke Museum and the indigenous peoples and sovereign tribal governments of the Pacific Northwest. Together with the NAAB, she has led the Museum’s ongoing decolonization efforts, and made the Museum a national model for respectful adherence to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). She has also pioneered a new vision for the relationship between museums and their audiences, “turning the Museum inside out” by bringing the research work of the Museum staff and curators out of the back rooms and into public view. She has managed a large and diverse staff of more than 100 museum professionals and volunteers, and secured the appointment of the largest and most diverse group of faculty curators in the Museum’s history. She has also revitalized the Burke Museum Associates (BMA), turning that group of Burke supporters into a fundraising juggernaut and a critical link that binds together the Museum and its community champions.

This is an extraordinary record by any standard, one that fully merits the recognition the Thorud Leadership Award would represent. Let me now address each of the criteria by which Thorud recipients are chosen, and how Julie has exemplified these qualities and expectations.

Demonstrate quality work that sets an example while including others
Julie has been the indispensable person in leading the Burke over the past 15 years. None of this would have happened without her. But she will be the first to tell you that she didn’t do it alone. Her success has stemmed from her capacity to make many, many others – state legislators, BMA members, NAAB members, staff, curators, and volunteers – all feel that they are an essential part of building the new Burke Museum. As indeed they are, because the new Burke is not only and not merely a new building. Most importantly, it is a Museum with a new spirit and a new mission, to be in practice what it is has long been in title, the State of Washington’s natural and cultural history museum, in which ALL of the state’s residents can share in and find their place as part of the state’s heritage and peoples.

Value and honor diverse experiences and perspectives
Diversity has been the watchword of all the Museum’s efforts under Julie’s leadership. Building on the work of Professor James Nason (Comanche), who first established the Museum’s leadership role in complying with NAGPRA requirements, the Museum under Julie’s leadership has become a trusted ally of the state’s indigenous tribes and bands in representing their interests and values. One example of the trust that has developed between the Burke and the tribes is the fact that when the bones of the Ancient One (so-called “Kennewick Man”) were unearthed, and lengthy legal suits occurred to determine whether these bones would be returned to the earth or not, the Burke Museum was asked to serve as the repository for these bones while the legal suits worked their way toward resolution. The Burke protected the bones quietly and respectfully. Never were these bones put on display; and when they were finally returned for burial, after a court order, the return was done in a culturally appropriate manner, without publicity.

The fundamentally colonialist relationships that have existed historically between museums like the Burke and native peoples are a legacy that will take generations to overcome. As noted above, the Burke has been a leader in these efforts, which are ongoing. For example, in keeping with this commitment to decolonization, the Burke’s exhibits are carefully designed to emphasize the fact that indigenous cultures across the globe are not historical artifacts, but living, contemporary realities. The Museum’s motto, “The Life Before You”, (devised under Julie’s leadership) captures this attitude beautifully, referring simultaneously to what has come before us and to the lives that spread out in front of us. Respect the well-being of people in achieving large-scale goals

The campaign to build a new Burke Museum required consensus-building across a very wide range of individuals with varying interests and ideas. Throughout the long process of envisioning what the new Burke could and should be, Julie was continually challenged to keep the visioning process moving forward without alienating people who did not initially share the same vision. As with any large project, it was not possible to fulfill everyone’s dreams. But Julie left everyone feeling that their voices had been heard, even when decisions ultimately went against them.

Then, just as the new Museum finally opened, the COVID pandemic hit, forcing the Museum to close to visitors and creating something of a crisis for an institution that had re-envisioned itself around the visitor experience. Julie did everything she could to keep staff morale high and to keep staff members employed. Although a modest number of layoffs were ultimately unavoidable, everyone recognized how hard Julie had worked to avoid these.

Exhibit an openness to new ideas and partnerships
The vision for the New Burke Museum was arrived at gradually, through a long process of consultations and discussions with stakeholders. It did not spring, full-born, from the forehead of Zeus or of Julie Stein. Throughout this process, Julie remained open to the new ideas that were brought forward, and remained receptive to criticism also. When Julie began as ED, “decolonization” was not yet being discussed. Today, it is a central theme for the Museum’s work. Julie’s ideas have evolved, along with those of the Museum she leads.

Advance access and opportunity for others
“Access” has many meanings. So too does “opportunity”. From the standpoint of physical access, the new Burke Museum building is state-of-the-art. But no less importantly, the new museum now projects an attitude of openness and invitation to communities and peoples that have not previously felt that museums like the Burke were “for them”. This openness is epitomized in the very architecture of the building. Glass and light are everywhere, and the work of the museum goes on in full public view. But it is also epitomized in the way the exhibits are presented, and especially those that pertain to people. Access and opportunity are epitomized in the staff of the museum. One third of the Museum’s curators and directorial staff are now persons of color. All of these individuals were hired by Julie.

I’ve worked with Julie for many years. We served together in the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office in 2004-5, she as Divisional Dean for Research and Infrastructure, and I as Divisional Dean of Social Sciences. In 2006, Julie became Executive Director of the Burke Museum; and in 2007, I became Divisional Dean of Arts and Humanities, thus making me Julie’s immediate supervisor. From January 2012 until September 2021 I served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In that role, I was Julie’s ultimate supervisor. I met with Julie every few weeks, helping to support her work as she led the campaign for the New Burke. As Dean of the College, I also had overall budgetary responsibility for the construction of the new Burke building. During my time as Dean, I also served for two years on the Thorud Award Committee.

I have, in short, known Julie Stein’s work well for many years, and I’ve reviewed the records of a number of excellent Thorud Award candidates. I would place Julie Stein at the top of that list.

Robert Stacey
Professor of History and Dean Emeritus
College of Arts and Sciences

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