Catherine Horne, who helped get EdVenture Children’s Museum started and served as its CEO for its first 10 years, is leaving to become president and CEO of Discovery Place in Charlotte.
Discovery Place is a much larger operation, with a main science center and IMAX theater and two additional children’s museums in the Charlotte area, but making the move north was a tough decision for Horne.
“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but it’s something when it presented itself, I had to consider it,” Horne said of the Discovery Place job. “This is a really exciting opportunity for me, and it combines my love for children’s museums with my passion for science.”
Horne jumped on the EdVenture bandwagon 18 years ago, soon after founders Sue Oliver and Katherine Frankstone came up with the concept for a children’s museum in Columbia. She helped organized short-term educational exhibits in shopping centers and put together fundraising campaigns for eight years before the museum opened on Gervais Street near the Congaree River.
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“To found a museum and bring it into life is certainly a seminal event in anyone’s career,” said Horne, who came to EdVenture from the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum.
While she wasn’t looking to leave Columbia, she feels the timing is right for both her and for the museum she helped birth. EdVenture draws more than 200,000 visitors each year and has received the National Medal for Museum Service, the highest honor for U.S. museums.
“EdVenture is in a great place for its next chapter,” said Horne, who choked up and had to stop to compose herself during the phone interview. “And it’s exciting to think about where we’ve come from in the past 10 years. It’s been a great honor to help it get to this point.”
Horne’s last day at EdVenture will be Jan. 24. At Discovery Place, Horne will succeed John L. Mackay Jr., who retires at the end of December after 13 years.
“Catherine brings a tremendous depth of understanding about both science centers and children’s museums,” Mark McGoldrick, co-chair of the Discovery Place search committee said in a news release. “Out of an incredibly talented pool of candidates, we are delighted to have found someone with Catherine’s mix of leadership, imagination and knowledge plus the proven ability to engage and fundraise.”
Horne has been adept at negotiating the fundraising landscape, convincing Columbia officials to provide funding while also bringing in federal education grants. She serves on the board of directors of the Association of Children’s Museums.
Oliver and Frankstone recruited Horne to the nascent EdVenture team after hearing her make a presentation at a non-profit fund-raising seminar. Frankstone said EdVenture “would not have materialized into anything like it is today without (Horne’s) vision and her leadership. She’s phenomenal.”
The original EdVenture board set term limits for board members to keep the perspective fresh. For that same reason, Frankstone said, Horne’s departure could have some positives.
Chip Amaker, chairman of the EdVenture board, said the board is “excited for Catherine but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to miss her. She’s done such an excellent job. I’m not sure we can replace her — we’ll just find a different person to do the job.”
Amaker said the board likely will set up a search committee at a meeting next week and discuss interim leadership. They should have plenty of applicants. EdVenture is considered one of the top children’s museums in the country, and Horne was well-paid. According to reports required for non-profits, her salary in early 2012 was $175,000.
Horne will have more to oversee in her new job. Discovery Place’s 160,000-square-foot main facility in Charlotte features educational, exhibition, meeting and support spaces. The museum finished an 18-month, $31.6 million renovation in 2010.
The organization branched out with a Discovery Place KIDS museum in Huntersville, N.C., in 2010 and a second Discovery Place KIDS in Rockingham, N.C., this year. The Discovery Place Education Studio for teacher professional development is in the works.