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January 17, 2024

New Discovery Museum CEO eyes an inclusive, strategic future

Children and adults play on a rocky playscape. Photo | Courtesy of the Discovery Museum The Discovery Museum in Acton
A large white building with a blue balcony. Photo | Courtesy of the Discovery Museum The new exterior of the Discovery Museum
A wooded treehouse with a swing Photo | Courtesy of the Discovery Museum The new treehouse at the Discovery Museum

Joining the Discovery Museum in Acton in 2013, Marie Beam found an outlet for her workplace passion: bringing quality learning experiences to children from all walks of life.

A woman in a blue jacket and white shirt stands in a museum.
PHOTO | Courtesy of Discovery Museum
Marie Beam assumed the role of CEO at Discovery Museum on Jan. 1.

In her former role as chief development officer and now as the museum’s new CEO, Beam said issues surrounding museum access are top of mind as the 41-year-old nonprofit begins a strategic planning process this spring.

“I feel incredibly privileged to be here on the ride and to see what comes next for the Discovery Museum,” said Beam, a longtime fundraising expert in the education space. Beam assumed her new role in January after longtime CEO Neil Gordon retired.

Before joining Discovery Museums in 2013, Beam found herself honing opportunities to expand education access for students of the Fay School, a private day and boarding school in Southborough. That has carried over to her work in Acton, where museum leaders have employed a universal-design approach in an $8.8-million renovation and redesign between 2016 and 2018 under Gordon’s direction.

The project included the opening of a nature playscape, treehouse classroom, and the new museum building, replacing the former Children’s Discovery Museum housed in a Victorian house.

Indoors and out, Beam said it is crucial people with different abilities, whether wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf, or with sensory processing challenges, can enjoy the museum grounds unhindered alongside everyone else. Free or nearly-free admission is available for those in financial need.

“We don’t have a parallel experience. There is one that works for everyone,” Beam said. 

For its efforts, the Discovery Museum was named a 2023 finalist for the National Medal for Museum Service, a prestigious honor by the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services. 

With the momentum of the renovation and expansion under Gordon, and an upswell of interest from museum patrons coming out of the coronavirus pandemic – the museum had its biggest year in 2023 for visitors crossing the museum threshold and serving children in classrooms – Beam said it is well poised to achieve new milestones. Importantly, fundraising continues to grow, with donors and foundations contributing nearly $1.4 million in 2023 for operating support and special projects. That’s up from $1 million in 2020, and $286,000 the year before Beam arrived to lead development.

For starters, the museum will issue a request for proposals for a feasibility study to chart the course for a new strategic plan. Looking ahead, Beam said she expects a major focus on programs that teach enduring problem solving skills, as kids grow up in a world where technology is rapidly evolving.

“The ability to be creative problem solvers, to be a leader,” Beam said “It’s a big part of what we do here in our museum, in our galleries and communities.” 

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