Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum president and CEO, Deborah Lahey, is planning to retire on June 30, 2022. Deb has led the Museum since 2010. If you’ve had the opportunity to join us for a family event, a special exhibit opening, or the Butterfly Ball, you’ve had the chance to see Deb’s leadership and passion for the Nature Museum firsthand.
“It has been an honor to serve as the leader of the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for 12 years. I have had the privilege of working alongside the Nature Museum’s dedicated staff, supportive Trustees, and passionate volunteers and friends. It is their commitment, generosity and guidance that has assured that we can provide the ever-important connections to nature and science. I am very proud of all we have accomplished together,” Deb said in her announcement.
Deb joined the staff in 2009 as the COO, and immediately helped create a strategic and financial roadmap for the future growth of the institution. When she was named President & CEO in 2010, she used that plan as her guide, and the Nature Museum became the 6th most visited museum in Chicago; strengthened its visitor engagement; expanded programming and outreach; and created self-curated exhibits including Weather to Climate: Our Changing World. She built a strong leadership team and assured that the Museum provided more direct hours of educational outreach, primarily in underserved schools, than any other museum in the city.
Under Deb’s leadership the institution strengthened its financial position and built its financial reserves. Most notably the largest fundraising event, the Butterfly Ball, grew from a $1.3 Million to a $2.3 Million event showcasing the amazing ways the museum’s educational outreach reaches every ward in the city.
Deb also deepened partnerships throughout the city with universities, with organizations that care deeply about nature and science, and via grassroots outreach through the Museum’s Chicago Conservation Corps. From 2018-2019, she also was president of Museums in the Park, the association of the 11 museums that are on Chicago Park District land.
During the last 18 months when the Museum’s building was closed due to the pandemic, when people’s perception of the need for nature was heightened, Deb focused the Museum staff and resources on continuing to serve and connect the community with critical science and nature content. The Museum engaged audiences, both near and far, with daily educational newsletters; provided instruction in virtual classrooms; and created a YouTube series— Curious by Nature —to deliver weekly engaging features from Nature Walks to interviews with Museum scientists. As a result, the Nature Museum has been providing more digital engagement than any other museum in Chicago.
“We thank Deb for her leadership and vision. She has strengthened every aspect of the Nature Museum and deepened the role the Nature Museum plays in our schools, communities, and guests’ lives,” said David Hackett, partner at Baker McKenzie and the Museum’s board chairman. “Deb’s impact on the Nature Museum will benefit Chicago well into the future.”
He also noted that the hallmark of Deb’s leadership was leading the Board and staff in looking deeply at all parts of the museum’s operations to assure that the Nature Museum remains a vital institution into the future. “The resulting strategic plan focuses on the deep institutional legacy of the Chicago Academy of Sciences as the leader in science education and strengthens the vital role the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum plays as the public face of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and as the urban gateway to nature and science. This positioning is encapsulated in the Museum’s tagline ‘Wonder is in our Nature,'” he said.
The Board of Trustees of the Nature Museum will establish a search committee to find Deb Lahey’s successor.