Jessica Hanson York
Executive Director and CEO of The Mingei International Museum
Coined by revered Japanese philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi, the word mingei translates to “art of the people” and is the driving force behind Balboa Park’s historic Mingei International Museum. Celebrating creativity in all its forms, visitors are able to enjoy an array of exhibitions ranging from displays of functional ceramics and intricate tapestries to whimsical mosaic sculptures and vibrant piñatas. In fact, the museum now houses roughly 25,000 artifacts from more than 140 countries.
Perhaps the biggest lever in helping move the success of the museum forward is its leadership, specifically from Jessica Hanson York. Jessica brings a lifelong love of art and an entrepreneurial spirit to her role as Executive Director and CEO of the Mingei International Museum. Interestingly enough, she never anticipated her passion and appreciation for art would later manifest into a fulfilling career.
“It was honestly unplanned,” she shared with GB Magazine. “I did not study art history or attend school to be a curator. I actually spent the first part of my career in public broadcasting, though I was always a dedicated museum visitor. I began my time here at Mingei as a volunteer, which at the time was a way to spend even more time in museums! Ultimately, I was able to transfer my experience and skills in nonprofit management from mass media into the arts.”
With over 20 years of experience in strategic communications, fundraising, and operations, Jessica joined the Mingei team in 2011 and officially assumed her new position as CEO on July 1, 2022. One of her favorite aspects of the job is meeting and connecting with people who are passionate about Mingei’s mission to share and celebrate folk art, craft, and design, including community partners, volunteers, and individual supporters. “Watching new exhibitions go up is also always exciting, and I am grateful to be able to enjoy them frequently. I try to walk through the galleries whenever I get a chance and I am always inspired by my innovative and dedicated colleagues and the artists we engage with to do our work,” she shares.
In addition to her duties at the Mingei International Museum, Jessica also serves on an advisory board for Malashock Dance, an organization that provides access to dance as an avenue for artistic expression through participation, education, and creative collaboration. “My daughter has taken dance classes there for years, and we are always excited to attend the performances,” she says. Jessica even co-teaches graduate classes in nonprofit leadership at the University of San Diego with her friend and colleague, Dr. Patti Saraniero. Together, they have developed three courses that examine the challenges facing arts and culture organizations and the skills needed to lead them.
When it comes to practicing effective leadership, Jessica notes that it all starts with wanting to go into work each day. “I strive to demonstrate care and respect for my colleagues, to be transparent in my tasks and decisions, and to communicate constantly,” she shares. “Being attentive to strategy and the big picture, while keeping our audience at the center and supporting our amazing staff each day is about balancing these things.” Outside of work, Jessica enjoys spending time with her husband, 14-year-old daughter, and dog Weasley.