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The Cleveland Museum of Natural History Names its Develoment Officer as Acting CEO


The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has named an acting CEO after the abrupt resignation last month of former Director Evalyn Gates

Chief Development Officer Sonia Winner will now lead the museum through a crucial phase of its $150 million centennial expansion.

The museum had hoped to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020 with a new 140,000-square-foot visitors space. Winner says she and the museum board are pushing back that deadline.

“We need to really develop a 5- to 10 year plan for this museum, and so we may be phasing this in a different way.”

Winner says her immediate role is guiding a reassessment of the project, “looking at the scope, the budget, what the timeline looks like and, all importantly, how we are knitting that together with our fundraising.”

The museum has raised $78 million of the $150 million needed to complete the expansion. Winner says that, as of now, there are no plans to change the idea of building a new, two-story exhibition hall.

“We haven’t changed from that vision. I think the board is committed to that vision,” she says, but there will be a reevaluation of how the project is rolled-out.

“We just want to make sure that our plans reflect what we really want to achieve and the most important thing for us moving forward is making sure that the content, the science, and the love of nature and all our conservation activities remain at the forefront of this project.”

Winner could not say when that process will be completed but is confident a new timeline for the project will be laid out this year.

Credit CMNH
A drawing shows the proposed new Grand Lobby and 140,000 sq. ft. exhibition space that are part of the postponed phase II expansion of the museum.

Winner was named chief development officer in January 2014. Before that, she was part of a successful $6.1 billion fundraising effort at Columbia University in New York.

Asked if she’d like to become permanent director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Winner says she has been in charge of very large projects and responsible for large staffs, and has a reputation for decisive leadership. But all that being said, "This is not about me, it’s about the institution,” and the best leader to move it forward.

Jeff St. Clair is the midday host for Ideastream Public Media.