In 2003, Hartigan was named that institution’s chief curator, and she was later promoted to deputy director in 2016. She left the Peabody Essex Museum in 2020, and when she returns to the institution, she will have been working in at the Royal Ontario Museum for a little over a year—an unusually short term for an official in a senior role at a major art space.
During Hartigan’s time at the Peabody Essex Museum, she helped oversee an expansion that added 40,000 square feet of gallery space in 2019. Prior to her tenure there, she had spent roughly two decades at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where she built up an in interest in folk art and work by Black artists. Hartigan is an expert on artist Joseph Cornell, and in 2006, she organized a survey devoted to him that appeared at the Peabody Essex Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.