Day in the Life: Esmé Ward

A portrait of Esme Ward
Ellie Grace Photography

What have you been doing today?

Today has been a suitably eclectic mix;  briefing colleagues on plans for ecological action and exploring ways to work with environmental charities and partners across the city; writing, reviewing and signing off a funder’s report; spending time in galleries chatting with folks and learning more about entomology and our latest exhibition’s ongoing installation; phone interview with researcher about the future of museums and care; catch up with capital project manager including an update on the very large hole in the museum courtyard (its meant to be there, foundations for our new extension) and finally the perfect way to end the day - welcoming and introducing poet Inua Ellams and his extraordinary new commission (about a looted tusk from Benin) at an evening event…


Is that a typical day for you?

Not sure a typical day exists, no two days are the same and that’s just how I like it! There is always a lot on - mix of supporting, mobilising and connecting with people and always the challenging of balancing inside the building and outside the museum work. I enjoy breadth and pace, it energises me…but each week, I also carve out time to slow down, reflect, read, dream..  preferably, outdoors, up a hill, on a walk. Otherwise, I’m out of kilter..


When did you start working with culture, health and wellbeing, and how?

Nearly 20 years ago, when I was Education Officer at the Whitworth, I worked on a film project – Rites of Passage – with expectant mothers, primary schoolchildren and care home residents. Soon after, we started working with Manchester Schools Hospitals Service and it grew from there, securing funding to appoint one of the first ever Arts and Health Officers, Wendy Gallagher, who worked across the gallery and NHS Trust. This was foundational and today the relationship is as strong as ever. A few years later I started working in earnest with new parents and babies, and with older people and Age Friendly Manchester, all focused on social connectedness, agency and belonging.


What was the last project you came across that inspired you?

That’s tough, there’s so much that’s inspiring.. on my doorstep and further afield, like Lucy Burscough’s work ‘Facing Out’ focused on people who have experienced facial cancers, in partnership with Maggies in Manchester - powerful, beautiful, important work.  Often its not so much the projects (however brilliant the ideas) that inspire me but the people who make them happen - their commitment, care and imagination. 



Esmé is Director of Manchester Museum, at the University of Manchester, with a commitment to lead the world’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum.  Previously, she was Head of Learning and Engagement at Manchester Museum and the Whitworth where she led the growth of learning and public programmes, embedding award-winning health and culture, early years and age friendly work. She remains the Strategic Lead for Culture for Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, working across regional cultural organisations and public health to develop work by, with and for older people.  She is overseeing the creation of a new national agency to support the sector to become more age friendly and tackle ageism.

She was co-director Arts and Health Programme at the World Health Congress Europe 2019 and a key member of Live Well Make Art, exploring how to develop arts and health as a social movement.  She advises internationally on age-friendly culture and sits on national and regional social care, health and culture boards and networks. She was recently awarded Honorary Professor of Heritage Futures at the Institute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester.  She is currently developing understanding and leading work on repatriation as healing and manifestations of care in museums.