Making History at the Museum, Naturally

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Executive helps start a science education program

By Alan Krawitz

West Sider Lisa Gugenheim has been an integral part of the American Museum of Natural History since joining the organization more than a decade ago as executive director of government and community relations.

“It’s very rewarding for me to contribute to finding ways to connect the public with the museum’s authentic scientific research and collections,” said Gugenheim.

Perhaps as testament to her skill as both an administrator and communicator, Gugenheim, 47, has been promoted twice since joining the museum in 1996. Most recently, in 2009, she was named senior vice president of institutional advancement, strategic planning and education.

Among Gugenheim’s various responsibilities are educational outreach to schools and development of public programming, such as the upcoming Margaret Mead Film Festival and space shows. She also spearheads fundraising activities.

Prior to her tenure at the museum, Gugenheim was chief of staff to former City Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge, and director of the New York office of Greater Media, Inc.

Asked about highlights of her career with the museum, Gugenheim said founding Urban Advantage with museum colleagues and others from city institutions ranks on top of her list.

Urban Advantage, said Gugenheim, is a 6-year-old middle-school science initiative that has helped “thousands of 7th and 8th graders in the city to greater achievement in and enjoyment of science.”

“I find it extremely exciting to work in an institution that is so relevant, even approximately 140 years after its founding,” she said. Questions of conservation and biodiversity have never been more critical than they are now, she added.

The Rose Center, she said, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, created a premier center for learning and public education about astrophysics, earth and planetary science.

“Millions of people have visited the Rose Center since it opened in 2000,” she said.

However, while the museum has racked up millions of visitors over the years, Gugenheim laments that visitors are only seeing a tiny part of the museum’s vast historical reserves. “Many people don’t know that what is displayed in the museum’s galleries are only a fraction of the approximately 32 million objects it holds in its collections,” she said.

“I have been working with Lisa and her staff at the American Museum of Natural History for years,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. “From special projects like our partnership on my annual West Side Senior Day to providing educational programming and resources to our neighborhood schools, Lisa is thoughtful and dedicated to her work.”

Gugenheim said that the greatest challenge faced today by arts institutions, is of course, fundraising.

Nevertheless, Gugenheim considers herself lucky.

“I feel very fortunate to be in a job that I love,” she said, “where I don’t need to change anything because by its very nature it changes every day.”

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