The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (the Museum) seeks a bold, pioneering, inventive, and collaborative leader to serve as its new Vice President of Education. The successful hire will be expected to dramatically increase the Museum’s presence and influence in Southern California, build bridges and develop new relationships with a wide variety of institutions and educational organizations in the region, and develop a strategic and operational plan to fulfill these ambitions. The Museum aspires to be a national standard bearer in providing formal and informal education programs that engages the citizens of Los Angeles, and often beyond, in an impactful lifelong learning relationship.
The Vice President of Education (VPEd) will join the Museum at an exciting time in the institution’s history. The new President and Director, Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, joined the Museum in 2015 after a successful tenure as President of Scripps College. A geologist by training, Dr. Bettison-Varga is a creative, ambitious leader who is currently engaging internal and external constituents in a vibrant conversation about the future direction of the Museum. This VP position is a new addition to the executive team. In recent years, the education group reported to a vice president who was responsible for both education programs and exhibit development. Dr. Bettison-Varga, with the advice and consent of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, has now separated the responsibilities and created two distinct positions, a vice presidency for education and another for exhibits. This effort, and the new VPEd role, will allow for a re-invigorated, distinct focus on the educational mission of the institution and integration with current engagement initiatives.
The Museum comprises a family of institutions located in three Los Angeles County locations. The Natural History Museum (NHM), La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum combine to provide visitors and researchers a rounded indoor-outdoor experience, and unique natural and cultural insights into our past, present, and future. The Museum is a public private partnership between the non-profit Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Foundation and the County of Los Angeles. It serves over 1.3 million visitors a year, 200,000 of which are school age children.
Having amassed one of the world’s most extensive collections of natural and cultural history with over 35 million objects, the Museum is expansive and dynamic, rich with immersive exhibits and intriguing areas of study and observation. The Museum is on sound financial footing, due in large part to longstanding support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a recent capital campaign, NHM Next, which has nearly reached its goal of $135 million. This has allowed the Museum to unveil exciting projects including the Nature Gardens, Butterfly Pavilion, Nature Lab, Dinosaur Hall, Age of Mammals, the Becoming L.A. exhibit, and the remodeling of the 1913 building and rotunda. The new VPEd will make significant contributions in achieving the Museum’s ambitions.
A list of the desired qualifications and characteristics of the VPEd can be found at the conclusion of this document, which was prepared by the Search Committee with the assistance of Isaacson, Miller, a national executive search firm, to provide background information and detail the key opportunities and challenges related to the position. All confidential applications, inquiries, and nominations should be directed to the parties listed at the conclusion of this document.
About the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
NHM was the first public museum building in Los Angeles when it opened its doors in 1913 as the Museum of Science, History, and Art. The original facility was built on land that initially served as an agricultural fairground until William Miller Bowen advocated developing the park into a cultural center. Bowen led the efforts in constructing a plan that allowed the State to build an exposition building for California products, the County to build a historical and art museum, and the City would maintain the grounds. This tripartite ownership is still in effect today.
The original structure of today’s NHM was built in 1913 and local organizations were persuaded to add to the galleries of the new entity. Prehistoric remains from the La Brea Tar Pits were also popular contributions in addition to mammal skeletons, which populated the science wing of the Museum. In 1963, the Art Department relocated to its own museum and the Exposition Park facility became the Natural History Museum, located across the street from the University of Southern California. NHM was also joined by other major cultural facilities in the park: the Memorial Coliseum, Sports Arena, Swimming Stadium, California Science Center, California African American Museum, and the largest municipal-owned rose garden in the nation.
Conveniently, the La Brea Tar Pits are located in the heart of metropolitan Los Angeles and are one of the world’s most famous fossil localities. Rancho La Brea started off as a Mexican Land Grant of over 4,400 acres that allowed residents to have access to asphalt. As the city of Los Angeles blossomed, the rancho was subdivided and developed. The last owner, George Allan Hancock, recognized the scientific significance of fossils found in the asphaltic deposits and decided to donate 23 acres of the ranch to the County of Los Angeles under the condition that the park be preserved and fossils properly exhibited.
Since 1906, several million fossils have been recovered, representing over 600 species of Ice Age plants and animals. Today the museum has been renamed from the Page Museum to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and serves as a unique opportunity to display excavated treasures at the site they were discovered. The Museum hosts over- 396,000 visitors a year and is a big draw for school groups and scientists alike who wish to explore Ice Age Los Angeles.
The William S. Hart Museum is the former home of stage and screen actor William S. Hart. Hart eventually retired to his 10,000 square foot mansion in Newhall, California in 1927 where he lived until he passed away in 1946. As an active member of the Newhall community and philanthropic figure, he decided to leave his Newhall home to the County of Los Angeles to be converted into a park and museum for the public. The William S. Hart Museum now sees 22,150 visitors a year and offers tours of the 22- room mansion and Hart’s extensive collection of Western artwork, Native American artifacts, mementos from early Hollywood, and personal furnishings. There is also an animal zoo containing bison and other farm animals. Admittance to the museum and park remains free and accessible to visitors.
Today, NHM is a resource for Southern California teachers, an authority on the “big picture” of the natural and cultural world, as well as a knowledge base for the Earth’s biodiversity, past and present. NHM serves approximately 200,000 school visitors annually and delivers students and teachers guided programming and tours. Access to special exhibits and live animal presentations are also granted to school visitors free of charge in order to allow students to explore and expand their learning. New opportunities exist for strengthening the relationship between NHM and the underserved populations in the surrounding neighborhood.
Teachers, too, benefit greatly from programming and informal education delivery: 8,500 teachers are served annually through a variety of onsite programs. Monthly workshops at the NHM and quarterly workshops at the Tar Pits connect teachers with museum scientist and education experts around various science topics and disciplines. Teachers are then able to share this knowledge with their students and incorporate lesson plans and curriculum with NHM visits.
NHM’s Mobile Museums, specially designed semi-truck trailers that travel to various school sites, allow students to learn like scientists by asking questions, studying specimens, and sharing discoveries. Since 1992, over 650,000 students, teachers, and community participants have taken advantage of this unconventional educational delivery.
There are also a number of educational offerings to non-school group visitors. The Museum’s citizen science programs allow the local community to engage in a long-term biodiversity study of urban habitats and surrounding areas. There are several projects and special events that scaffold fun nature experiences for people of all backgrounds, and simultaneously, provide crowd-sourced data for NHM scientists. Programs include RASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California), SLIME (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments), Spider Survey, and the Southern California Squirrel Survey. They compel community members to interact and collaborate with science in a way that inspires curiosity outside of the in-museum experience. The cross-species analysis that results allows researchers to contextualize their work and provide a bigger picture for the study of biodiversity—a model, the Museum feels will set the bar for environmental and urban nature studies.
The Museum’s education department does more than help teachers and chaperones meet state educational standards and provide them with activities and lesson plans online, however. The Museum’s team of talented performers stage Dinosaur Encounters and Ice Age Encounters programs, which have served over 1.2 million audience members and performed over 6,900 shows. The shows feature three large-scale puppets, a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, a Triceratops modeled after fossils in the Museum’s collection, and a saber-toothed cat. Puppets and scripts have been created with the expertise of NHM’s paleontologists and education staff, and are delivered through skillful performances of puppeteers. These performances allow the audience to be guided back in time to better understand extinct animal anatomy, possible behavior, movement, as well as the work of NHM’s paleontologists.
NHM’s educators and volunteer interpreters also offer live animal presentations, conduct award-winning gallery tours, and host story times for young children. These knowledgeable gallery interpreters are continually trained on exhibit content and interpretive techniques. They are also encouraged to explore their own areas of interest within the Museum—because their passion for particular areas of our natural and cultural worlds enhances their interaction with guests.
Every day, volunteers staff many of the Museum’s exhibits, helping guests explore the wonders of nature, history, and different cultures. Through informal interpretation, they forge personal connections for visitors with the content of the exhibits. They are enthusiastic, motivated, lifelong learners who bring the Museum to life. Through ongoing training, volunteers receive a foundation in interpretive techniques and customer service, continuing on to gain specialized skills specific to Museum exhibits. Docents are the Museum’s highest achieving volunteers, representing not only a breadth of content knowledge and interpretive skills, but an ongoing commitment to NHM.
Once a month from February through June, NHM opens its doors after hours for an event called First Fridays. These events introduce young and adult audiences to a new kind of museum experience. Contemporary science, culture, and individual experience converge during these events; accessible, relevant discussions and tours unfold, there are live performances by musicians, bands, and DJs, and the entire Museum is open to explore, often with pop-up performances and surprises in both its historic halls and its brand-new exhibitions.
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum features active excavations in Hancock Park, and a museum with multiple displays that allow visitors to not only see fossils, but also experience the trajectory these fossils take through discovery, excavation, and lab preparation. A strategic visioning process is underway to re-
imagine the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, along with the Hancock Park environs, as a more seamless and connected indoor-outdoor experience. The Museum strongly feels that the Tar Pits should become the foremost institution in the world for education, research, and programming related to global climate change.
The Tar Pits is an active fossil site that not only reveals scientific information about the past, but also provides clues about climate change now and in the future. Pit 91 is a long-term excavation effort that staff have been exploring for nearly 40 years. Work began in 1915, but eventually caved in due to the lack of a roof. In 1969, paleontologists returned to Pit 91 to continue excavating, and in 1976, the viewing station opened that allows visitors to look directly into the pit as excavators work.
Along with Pit 91, the Museum is working on Project 23, the site of a major discovery of 16 new fossil deposits, revealed in the 2006 construction of a new parking garage for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is housed next door. Over 327 buckets of fossil material have been recovered from the salvage site, and 23 large wooden boxes have been built around each deposit. The Excavator Tour guides visitors through how excavators and scientists find fossils of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and more in the Tar Pits and then piece them back together. Guests are exposed to the rich history of Los Angeles and the many animals and plants that once thrived in the Los Angeles County area. In all, the accumulation of fossils from the Tar Pits provide an enormous potential for understanding the ecological impact of climate change, information that is critical in order to assess present and future environmental change.
Role of the Vice President of Education
The VPEd reports to the President and Director and has overall responsibility for directing educational and academic affairs programs at NHM, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and William S. Hart Museum. Currently, the VPEd oversees a staff of 90, including the gallery interpreters, public programs, performing arts, volunteer program, school programs, and the Mobile Museum program. The Director of Education and Programs and the Manager of Evaluation currently report to the VPEd. The VPEd manages a budget of $5 million.
As the chief education leader, the VPEd will work collaboratively with other departments such as Exhibits, Marketing and Communications, and Research and Collections to ensure a collective vision around implementing new innovative educational programming. The VPEd will also work across all three museums to deliver a cohesive curriculum that serves visitors seamlessly as they move from museum to museum.
Key Opportunities and Challenges for the Vice President of Education
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County aspires to be a leader and innovator in the museum education field, and the next VPEd will help the institution achieve this goal. The exhibits and research programs at the Museum have thrived in the last few years, garnering attention from children and adults alike, and in turn elevating the status of the institution as a premier scientific and cultural hub. With the spotlight on the Museum, the time is right to reinvest in its educational mission. There is space for both education and exhibits to flourish; the two areas should not be seen as distinct entities but as integrated units with an opportunity for simultaneous success. To this end, the Museum seeks to enhance the relationship between its educational, research and curatorial, and exhibition staffs, among others, to achieve a new level of constructive interaction. The Museum has opportunities for innovative programming and service to the public that are rivalled by few museums, and the VPEd will help galvanize the institution around its educational ambitions and then pursue them with intelligence, creativity, and tenacity. The VPEd will play a vital role in the Museum’s evolution by addressing the following key areas:
Unite the Museum around an educational vision that continues to build upon its distinctiveness
As the Museum embarks on its next strategic planning process, the VPEd will work closely with Dr. Bettison-Varga, the Board, and other senior staff to advance the Museum’s educational mission, and ultimately, increase its overall impact. This will mean further integration with the Research and Collections, as well as Exhibits departments, to bring educational models to their work and embed education across the organization. The VPEd will be an important partner and senior leader in the strategic planning process, as the expansion of educational programs will be a key area of focus moving forward.
Develop leading edge educational programs that are innovative and expansive
There is a tremendous opportunity for programmatic creativity, and the next VPEd must think about how to produce new offerings that are educational, strategic, and impactful, as well as unify existing programs around central themes. These programs must support the local Los Angeles community, which is diverse and as the data shows, aging. The VPEd must think creatively about alternative ways that people learn, and offer educational programming that better incorporates Research and Collections and moves beyond the school field trip. The next VPEd should strive to create new programming that is nationally recognized, particularly from the American Alliance of Museums. This position will play a critical role in developing interpretive content for the Exhibits, Marketing and Communications, and Research and Collections departments, utilizing traditional and digital platforms of engagement.
Facilitate new strategic partnerships that enhance educational impact
The VPEd will be expected to lead an effort to more effectively partner with the Los Angeles Unified School District, charter schools, and institutions of higher education, while collaborating with Research and Collections to develop mechanisms to impact both formal and informal education, and determining how the Museum can be a proactive, effective partner in impacting learning outcomes. Essential to this is the need for the Museum to play a greater role in providing professional development programs for teachers, working with them on curricular design and methodologies that complement classroom learning and broaden the Museum’s influence. Assessment is a critical piece of this, and there is an important opportunity for the Museum to form greater collaborations with universities, helping to better understand the impact of informal education through research and analysis.
Engage staff in a meaningful and productive manner
The Museum staff are an essential component to the delivery of strong educational programs, and the VPEd must provide the mentorship necessary for continued staff success. The VPEd will address staffing needs and recognize staff achievement, and provide professional development and opportunities to support each member. S/he will foster a spirit of unity and mutual respect within the institution, and should appreciate and champion the staff voice, regardless of position, getting to know teams outside of the education unit and bringing them into the educational fold.
Expand, leverage, and wisely manage educational resources
While the President is the Museum’s lead fundraiser, the VPEd will be a key partner to her with respect to promoting the Museum’s educational mission to prospective donors. Moreover, the VPEd will be expected to apply for federal and foundation grants, and will work with education staff to encourage applications for this type of funding. A deeper connection with the university sphere will be essential in grant development; the VPEd must further connections to principal investigators, navigating how the Museum can be included in the community engagement piece of active grants, particularly those from the National Science Foundation.
Coalesce a geographically dispersed organization
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a family of museums spread across Los Angeles County. The next VPEd must be attuned to the opportunities and challenges of a diffuse organization, and think carefully about how to implement effective educational programming that is consistent across all three entities. Additionally, the VPEd must work to reengage staff, particularly at the La Brea Tar Pits and the Hart Museum, who may feel less connected to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The VPEd must embrace the distinctiveness of the three units while simultaneously rallying staff around a unified departmental vision.
Qualifications and Characteristics
The Museum will search broadly for candidates with an emphasis on those with demonstrated commitment to the Museum’s mission, along with senior leadership experience in organizations of comparable scale and complexity. While no one candidate is likely to meet all the desired criteria, the successful candidate will bring many of the following qualifications and attributes:
• An advanced degree or extensive equivalent experience in a field appropriate for the position, e.g. science, history, or education.
• Successful track record of providing visionary leadership and effective management of a complex and sizable organization, preferably one with environmental, educational, or research interests.
• Demonstrated management experience, including involvement in planning, budgeting, and staff development and supervision.
• Ability to listen to, facilitate conversation between, and forge collegial relationships with various constituencies.
• A track record of meaningful community outreach with an emphasis on developing strategic external partnerships.
• Demonstrated success in generating financial support, including fundraising and grant development, within the broader community and the academic setting.
• Experience with internal evaluation and assessment of programs, as well as experience/familiarity with industry-standard metrics for assessing educational outcomes.
• Skills of diplomacy and collaboration combined with ambition and a willingness to take risks.
• Strong interest, preferably experience, in new technologies and innovative approaches to educational programming.
• Outstanding oral and written communications skills.
• A record of integrity, a sense of humor, resilience, and a self-starter with a strong work ethic.
NHM is located in Los Angeles, California, in the heart of Exposition Park and across the street from the University of Southern California. Exposition Park, a 160-acre site, is also home to the California African American Museum, Rose Garden, California Science Center, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and EXPO Center. The park has become one of Los Angeles’ premier cultural and special event destinations.
NHM is just south of Downtown Los Angeles and easily accessible to attractions such as Dodger Stadium, Staples Center, Music Center, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. With the opening of the new Metro Expo Line, NHM is now connected via public transportation to additional Los Angeles neighborhoods extending to the near beach area of Downtown Santa Monica.
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is located in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, on Museum Row and adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The William S. Hart Ranch and Museum is located in the scenic William S. Hart Park in Newhall, California, where guests may enjoy visiting a live collection of farm animals, a herd of American bison, a vast picnic area, a series of hiking trails, and a charming Western-themed Gift Store.
The County of Los Angeles is an ethnically and regionally diverse region known for its fantastic weather and easy access to beaches and mountains. It is the largest US city within a biodiversity hotspot, and its urban areas are intimately linked to nature. Los Angeles has also become a vibrant cultural hub filled with world-class theatres, museums, and art galleries. For more information, please see: http://www.discoverlosangeles.com/
Applications, Inquiries, and Nominations
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and is committed to diversity in its workforce. Screening of complete applications will begin immediately and continue until the completion of the search process. Inquiries, nominations, referrals, and CVs with cover letters should be sent via the Isaacson, Miller website for the search: www.imsearch.com/5857. Electronic submission of materials is strongly encouraged.
David Bellshaw, Courtney Wilk, Nate Brewer
1000 Sansome Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94111