January 8, 2019

Children's Museum & Theatre's executive director will step down, search for successor begins

Courtesy / Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine
Courtesy / Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine
Suzanne Olson, executive director of Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine, announced today she plans to retire and will leave her position in July. The museum's board is launching a national search for her successor.

A nationwide search is underway for a successor to Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine Executive Director Suzanne Olson, whose retirement was announced today by the museum's board of directors.

Olson, who has led the nonprofit for more than 18 years, will retire in July. She will transition to a consulting role in the $13.75 million capital campaign to build a new 30,000-square-foot museum and theater at Thompson's Point in Portland.

"When she stepped into the position of executive director more than 18 years ago, Suzanne's skills as a consummate educator, coupled with strong administrative leadership skills, contributed to her vital role in strengthening Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine to become one of the state's premier organizations devoted to children," Chris Dougherty, president of the board of directors, said in a news release. "She has hired a very talented staff of educators, leading to program expansions in a variety of fields."

Dougherty expressed confidence that the search for a new executive director will "attract high-quality applicants to continue to build upon Suzanne's remarkable accomplishments."

"Our organization has impressive momentum, the capital campaign is going well and a strong governance group is playing a crucial role to ensure Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine's future," Dougherty said.

"Suzanne set a course of purpose for the Children's Museum & Theatre as a community resource to all, encompassing access, inclusion and diversity in its many programs," added Maddy Corson, honorary chair of the capital campaign. "Suzanne has created a regional cultural asset and our community has benefited from her continued passion for early childhood education."

Capital campaign ramps up

Courtesy / Bruner/Cott & Associates
Courtesy / Bruner/Cott & Associates
A rendering of the new Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine building planned for Thompson's Point.

In late November, when the Children's Museum & Theatre announced it had received a $250,000 grant from Bank of America Foundation for its capital campaign, Olson told Mainebiz the grant would propel the nonprofit's next phase of fundraising for the project. It was the largest grant Bank of America had ever awarded in the state of Maine and one of the largest in all of its 43 suburban markets.

"It's a high-quality organization that we felt was very deserving," Bank of America's Maine Market President Bill Williamson told Mainebiz at that time.

Williamson added that as a parent who visited the museum when his children were younger, he came to see the museum as an important family experience that builds bonds through its educational and cultural offerings.

It also boosts the local economy, he said, by creating "opportunities for families and children to explore and discover, to enhance their education. In addition, they create jobs. They also bring visitors to the community, which helps local businesses."

Olson told Mainebiz the $13.75 million capital campaign was still in a quiet phase, but characterized Bank of America's grant as a significant boost advancing the museum's goal of opening its new facility at Thompson's Point in 2020.

Seeking a 'dynamic' leader

Dougherty said the search committee is looking for a "dynamic executive director who will continue to lead our organization through this exciting growth phase in our new location."

"This project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand our mission and impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year," Dougherty said. "Our new leader will continue to innovate, improve and expand our programs as a vital community resource."

Prior to her arrival at the Children's Museum & Theatre, Olson worked for 30 years as a middle school teacher and administrator. She has extensive experience in early childhood education and received the National Milken Educator Award in 1997. She set the standard for its museum and theater programs and exhibits, building upon the concept of learning through play based on early childhood education principles.

The new executive director will manage a staff of 20-plus employees and report directly to a 20-person board of directors.

When the new museum and theater is completed at Thompson's Point, it will be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and will feature a 100-seat theater, a full floor of STEM education exhibits and new aquatic exhibits and touch tanks showcasing Maine's diverse ecosystems.

The new facility is expected to attract 200,000 yearly visitors once it opens at Thompson's Point — nearly doubling the museum's current visitor numbers at its present 18,000-square-foot space at 142 Free St. in downtown Portland, where it has been for 25 years.

The museum's board said it expects Olson's successor will take over the leadership reins in July.


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