Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Museum's Natural History director, Sam Taylor, to leave - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

The director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History will leave his post at the end of the month after 41/2 years on the job but will be staying in Pittsburgh because, he said, "I have grown to love this community."

Sam McElroy Taylor led the museum through a "thoughtful reorganization that is redefining what it means to be a 21st-century natural history museum," said John Wetenhall, president and CEO of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Taylor realigned the museum into four interdisciplinary centers -- evolutionary biology, ecology and biodiversity, world cultures, and science learning. That reorganization "set the museum on an exciting course for future growth," Mr. Wetenhall said.

Mr. Taylor's resignation was unexpected, said museum spokeswoman Betsy Momich. She said a transition team should be in place in early October. Meanwhile, Mr. Wetenhall said, the museum is in good enough shape to take its time finding a replacement.

A marine biologist and science educator by training, Mr. Taylor assumed the director's job in April 2008 after a national search. Prior to that he had advised museums and other scientific organizations as director of Samuel Taylor Museum Consulting, and also had been chairman and curator of the education department at the California Academy of Sciences, director of exhibitions for the American Museum of Natural History, and biology director for the New York Hall of Science.

Mr. Taylor said he hasn't decided what he'll do next, but "a number of opportunities are developing," including consulting projects.

Asked if his departure wasn't rather abrupt, he said: "To the outside world it may look that way, but it really isn't. It's been considered and discussed for a while, and the time just seemed right."

In a statement, he said, "I have spent four and a half wonderful years at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and I am so proud of our museum's work reorganizing staff into professional centers and developing a plan that positions the museum for a vibrant and prosperous future.

"As the museum's work now turns from visioning to long-term implementation, I've decided this is the appropriate time for me to pursue opportunities with other science-based organizations that, like the Museum of Natural History, are re-visioning their futures."

Mr. Wetenhall agreed the timing made sense.

"We are completing our strategic planning process, so there's a natural pivot from planning a vision to implementing that vision. It's a natural time for this kind of transition." Mr. Wetenhall said.

Mr. Taylor said his biggest accomplishment as director was the reorganization that "put education and research more closely together." The centers, he said, "yielded some significant gifts and are off to a strong start," although more funding is needed.

"Our exhibit schedule and near-term plans are in very good shape so we have the luxury of time to evaluate our needs and define precisely the leadership we need," Mr. Wetenhall said.

Mr. Taylor stirred up some controversy in December 2010 by looking into whether the museum could benefit from gas extraction at Powdermill Nature Reserve, the 2,200-acre tract in Westmoreland County that serves as the museum's biological research station, and still maintain its environment. The drilling would have taken place on adjacent property and a line would have run horizontally underneath the site, but the plan did not go forward.

Asked what he thought the museum should look for in a replacement, Mr. Taylor said, "Someone who has a passion for science and communicating that to the public."

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