Vivienne Esrig joined the staff of the Museum of Photographic Arts in July, 2012. In our interview I learned about what has driven her career and what eventually brought her to relocate from Boston to San Diego.
Esrig was born and raised in the Boston area but she has spent considerable amounts of time in Calfornia. In the 1980’s, she moved with her parents to the Bay Area where she received a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration and a minor, in Arts Management from San Jose State University. Esrig explained that she originally wanted to become an artist but because of the practicalities of earning a living, her parents urged her to focus on business. While in college, Esrig interned at the San Jose Museum of Art where she was able to observe how museums operate. After working in the administrative offices of the museum and being mentored by the Executive Director at the time, she was hired part time as Assistant Director to run the capital campaign to raise money. Simultaneously, Esrig attended Golden Gate University where she received an MBA in Arts Managment, - her masters thesis centered around evaluating the museum and developing a structured plan for operations. After completing her MBA, and missing the east coast where she was raised, Esrig decided to move back to Boston where she was hired as the Arts Administrator at the Harvard Art Museums.
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Ruud van Empel
After a few years employed by the museum, Esrig moved over to work at Harvard Medical School,’s Department of Psychiatry where she felt there were more opportunities. She ran the department of Psychiatry for several years and was subsequently hired to be the Director of Administration and Operations at Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center. She also served as the Director of Finance and worked in the same capacity for the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Boston.
During her years in Boston, Esrig developed a strong passion for political activism. She was Treasurer for 20 years for the National Organization for Women and was involved in many womens rights issues, among them, the struggles at the time to keep womens’ clinics open. She commented on her sadness that there are no longer any womens clinics in Boston. On the personal side, Esrig is the primary caregiver to an unwell spouse and her parents are Holocaust survivors. Perhaps these factors fueled her commitment to pursuing a job with a social justice component. After 20 years as an administrator in the medical field, Esrig wanted a change. Eager to work for a mission driven organization that would need a strong business person, Esrig set out to find a position where her strong finance background would help provide services to those in need and one where her museum management skills would come into play. Through a colleague at Harvard, Esrig found the opening at the Museum of Photographic Arts.
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Esrig explained that when she was interviewed at MOPA, she was “blown away” because the job offered a synergy she felt between her business skills, museum background and the fact that the museum itself offers several programs that serve the community. The Museum of Photographic Arts offers a program called “Exposure”that goes into Title 1 schools where they teach photography, and another program called “Sepia” provides staff that visit senior centers, serving especially those with severe Dementia and Alzheimers and teaches them photography as well. Other programs include childrens' summer photography camps.
Esrig commented that MOPA, as many museums today, are struggling with financial issues and it is her primary job to run the fiscal aspects of the museum. She is currently working with the San Diego County Fair, the Photo Video Expo West and other events in the San Diego area to build more exposure and outreach for the museum. Despite all the challenges, it is clear that Vivienne Esrig’s passion for the museum and its community programs, together with her business acumen, will result in success for the San Diego community and the Museum of Photographic Arts.