Ward will take up her new role on Monday 9 April and succeeds Nick Merriman, who has become chief executive at Horniman Museum and Gardens.
Ward becomes director at an exciting time for Manchester Museum as work begins this year on its £13m Courtyard Project – a major new extension that will treble the museum’s existing space for temporary and touring shows – that will include a new South Asia Gallery.
Ward joined the Whitworth as its education officer in 1998 before becoming head of learning & engagement across the Whitworth and Manchester Museum in 2010. In recent years she also worked alongside Maria Balshaw to transform the Whitworth and help it win Art Fund Museum of the Year in 2015. She also recently completed a year-long Clore Cultural Leadership Fellowship, including a placement with the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“I am thrilled to be appointed the new Director of Manchester Museum,” she said. “The vision to use its collections to promote understanding between cultures and a sustainable world could not be more timely or relevant.”
She says her career has been driven by a social purpose and longstanding commitment to make museums even more inclusive and relevant to a wider audience. These range from babies to people living with dementia. “I am hugely excited to lead the museum at this critical time, build upon its excellent work to date and realise its potential as the UK’s most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum.”
Professor James Thompson, Vice President for Social Responsibility at The University of Manchester, said he was absolutely delighted to appoint the first woman director of Manchester Museum.
“Esme will bring vision and innovation to the Museum, continuing its excellent work with academics, students and its commitment to engagement with diverse local, national and international communities,” he said. “The Museum is thriving with record visitor numbers and now, as we build the new Courtyard project, Esme is an ideal appointment for this exciting phase in the Museum’s development.”
Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, first opened in 1890 and is the UK’s largest university museum with a collection of about 4.5m items.