Senior Director of Exhibits

Senior Director of Exhibits

California Academy of Sciences

San Francisco, CA   |   March 8, 2021

About The Academy

With a mission to “regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration,” the California Academy of Sciences – based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – is a powerful voice for biodiversity science, environmental learning, and collaborative engagement across the globe. The Academy is focused on leveraging its museum, its scientific discoveries, and its global education programs to inspire hundreds of millions of people to connect with and care for nature.

Since re-opening in the Renzo Piano-designed and LEED Platinum Certified new building 10 years ago, the California Academy of Sciences has welcomed 15 million visitors and discovered more than 1,500 new species.

In the past year, the Academy has largely been shuttered due to COVID but is still creating exhibitions and digital experiences for their audiences.  From retrofitting and communicating modifications to the public floor to opening “Venom” aquarium gallery, “Big Picture” nature photography exhibit and “Tis the Season for Science:  Reindeer” for fall 2020 reopening.  To work on upcoming 2021 openings such as “Sharks” and “Nature Play Garden” and “Skin” (traveling to Science Museum of Minnesota), the Academy Exhibits Studio has been busy and inspired to reinvent their craft in a post-COVID world.

The Academy typically has a consolidated budget that includes restricted programs and capital expenditures of $60-70 M. The endowment for the California Academy of Sciences is currently over $200M, with approximately 470 employees (and 730 volunteers that are not active this year). Grants from federal, state, and international agencies as well as private foundations are critical to fund research and programs and demonstrate its relevance in a competitive landscape of peers and leaders from all sectors.

Impact and Looking Ahead

From the almost 1.4 million visitors who walk through the doors each year to the 46 million scientific specimens in its collection, the Academy’s impact starts at the museum, but reaches far across the globe through scientific research, public engagement, and environmental learning  programs, and digital media.

With the 2019 appointment of Dr. Scott Sampson as Executive Director, the California Academy of Sciences is currently unveiling a new strategic direction and plan, including the mission, vision, values, and pathways. For this next chapter, the Academy is paying particular attention to issues vital to the future of life on Earth, including the fate of coral reefs, tropical islands, and California’s ecosystems. The Academy is also developing new ways to study and protect Earth’s natural wonders, share imaginative regenerative solutions, and engage global audiences through innovative educational programs and powerful digital storytelling. The future of the Academy’s work will facilitate more engaged and constructive conversations around critical science and environmental issues, shift our collective mindset in a more informed and positive direction, and inspire widespread action to create a more educated and sustainable global community. Simply put, the Academy is committed to working with diverse partners to move humanity and the natural world toward a thriving, regenerative future.

Our Commitment to Racial Equity

As a public cultural institution dedicated to inquiry, exploration, and education, the Academy has an ethical, moral, and scientific mandate to assess how we benefit from and contribute to deeply unjust societal systems. Beyond assessment, we need to act. We need to do better at listening to, learning from, and lifting up the communities in our midst that suffer disproportionately from systemic racism, structural inequality, and environmental injustice.

We are committed to ensuring diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion are intrinsic to Academy culture and operations, from recruitment and retention to science and advocacy. Explore Our Commitment to Racial Equity to learn about our intentional engagement of traditionally excluded groups, in an effort to spark interest in or foster pathways to scientific careers.

For more information on the Academy, please refer to the Appendix at the end of this document and its website.

The Opportunity

Positioning the Academy as a leader in biodiversity science and regenerating the natural world will require breakthrough exhibition experiences. The Academy seeks a Senior Director of Exhibits to oversee the creative development process for inspiring exhibits using engaging, innovative storytelling.

Reporting to the Museum’s Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, the Senior Director of Exhibits will rebuild and lead a team of ultimately over 20 exhibit professionals (designers, content developers, preparators, project managers, and registrars) that develop exhibits that push boundaries and engage broad public audiences. They will be responsible for the content strategy, evaluation, design, budget, installation and maintenance of the next generation of exhibits and tasked with rethinking how to use the building and exhibits to deepen visitor engagement.

Other key responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Creative leadership, solutions, and problem solving to consistently deliver engaging exhibits;
  • Demonstrate best practices in museum exhibit development;
  • Articulating a long-term exhibit schedule that aligns with Academy Exhibit Success Criteria: aligned with purpose/strategic plan, has broad public appeal, leverages the Academy’s unique research and collections resources, and is brand aligned.
  • Partnering across the Academy with all departments to create integrated and cutting-edge experiences for visitors of all backgrounds;
  • Designing a strategy for multi-media integration into Academy’s exhibitions to deepen engagement, personalize and potentially extend the Academy experience;
  • Engaging the exhibits team to develop and implement effective exhibit processes, including pre to post evaluation;
  • Acting as the primary liaison with Renzo Piano Building Workshop for any design input requests or design review requests;
  • Demonstrating the Academy is a leader in science communication through exhibit content;
  • Track record of implementing DEIA principles in exhibits, including considerations of language, appeal to diverse audiences, and challenging traditional history. Experience partnering with community-based organizations to integrate diverse voices and relevant themes into exhibits.
  • Cultivating, growing, and managing external partnerships to develop and/or enhance content and overall exhibit experiences.
Candidate Profile

The ideal candidate will possess the following attributes and competencies:

 A Creative Storyteller

The Senior Director will have a strong track record of providing leadership to deliver masterful storytelling through engaging exhibitions and fully integrated guest experiences. They should have a proven track record of developing exhibits and experiences that met or exceeded organizational goals and have demonstrable knowledge of throughput and visitor flow.  The Senior Director will have a strong working knowledge of exhibit and interactive design, user-centered experience design across digital technologies platforms that increase Academy capabilities in exhibit design and production. The Senior Director will create story-based experiences that inspire visitors and connect them more deeply to the natural world.

An Inspiring Team Leader

An inspiring and engaged leader, the Senior Director will have proven experience building and leading a team of professionals with a diverse set of ideas and skills. They will demonstrate the ability to lead a team to curate and bring big ideas to life. They will lead their team to achieve organizational impact by successfully leveraging individual creativity, strengths, and cross-functional teamwork. They will provide their team with a mission-driven work environment and professional growth opportunities. Serving as an internal champion, the Senior Director will foster a positive environment for participation, collaboration, and innovation with the goal to create breakthrough experiences for a superior overall visitor experience.

A Skilled Collaborator

Collegial and agile, this leader will inspire meaningful teamwork, collaboration, and shared purpose. With a high level of emotional intelligence, they will demonstrate the ability to develop productive and fulfilling working relationships within their department and across the organization at all levels for exhibits to achieve its full potential. They will also have the ability to engage multiple, cross-divisional voices to share expertise and build consensus. A polished and confident communicator, the Senior Director will be comfortable cultivating, growing, and managing external strategic partnerships and collaboration.  A demonstrated interest and passion for science and nature will help the Senior Director authentically lead and collaborate with key stakeholder groups.

A Passion for the Mission

Fully embracing the culture, values, and goals of the Academy, the Senior Director will be passionate about working in partnership with the leadership team to advance the Academy’s mission and vision in powerful new ways. The Senior Director will leverage the purpose of the Academy (Regenerate the Natural World) and communicate its importance to visitor audiences.

This leader may have a variety of professional experiences. They will be comfortable working across multiple mediums such as exhibitions, temporary shows, attractions, films, among others. It is highly desirable to have some prior museum experience either directly or as a client.

We hope you are inspired by what we do and are excited to contribute to our mission. The Academy is looking for candidates who do great work, and we know they may come from a number of different backgrounds and experiences. We encourage you to apply even if you don’t believe you meet every one of the qualifications for the position.

Expressing Interest

Koya Leadership Partners, the executive search firm that specializes in mission-driven search, has been exclusively retained for this engagement. Alexandra Corvin, Alison Ranney, and Ally Johnson are leading this search. To make recommendations or to express your interest in this role please email [email protected]. All nominations, inquiries, and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.


The California Academy of Sciences welcomes people of all backgrounds, identities, and beliefs to join us in achieving our mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. They place diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion at the heart of their recruiting efforts and strive to build a culture centered on mutual respect, equal treatment, and the opportunity to succeed.

About Koya Partners

Koya Partners, a part of the Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.

For more information about Koya Partners, visit

Appendix: Additional Information about the California Academy of Sciences

History and The Building

Founded in 1853 as the first scientific academy west of the Atlantic seaboard, the California Academy of Sciences soon became one of the West’s most popular destinations, drawing some 80,000 visitors annually to gaze at its giant wooly mammoth, grizzly bears, native plant specimens, and rare artifacts. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused major structural damage to the Academy’s buildings. The Academy used this as an opportunity to rethink the entire museum-going experience. The new vision: to create an institution for the 21st century—a premier destination of grand design that would bring the latest in scientific research to the public in the most engaging, educational, and inspiring ways imaginable.

The goal was to create a physical manifestation of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. Designed by Renzo Piano, the new building earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest ratings for its eco-friendly design and operations, making the Academy the world’s first Double Platinum museum—and the largest Double Platinum building in the world. The Academy received its first LEED Platinum rating in the “New Construction” category—covering the design and construction process—and its second in the “Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance” category, certifying that its day-to-day operations and practices meet the highest standards of sustainability.

The building is 410,000 square feet with 100,000 square feet of public space. All buildings and improvements erected by or under the authority of the California Academy of Sciences, are the property of the City and County. However, the buildings and improvements, and the activities and personnel are managed and controlled exclusively by the California Academy of Sciences.

Exhibits and Storytelling

With a mission to “regenerate the natural world through science, learning and collaboration”, the Academy strives to create compelling scientific stories that connect people to the wonder of the natural world, the power of science, and solutions for a thriving future.

  • The Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most biologically diverse and interactive aquariums on Earth. Home to nearly 40,000 live animals, representing more than 900 unique species, it offers guests an unprecedented view of underwater and terrestrial habitats. From species displayed nowhere else in the world to exhibits about cutting-edge research in little-known ocean ecosystems, a visit to Steinhart Aquarium is full of discovery. Since 1923, the Steinhart Aquarium has developed a colorful history of firsts. From becoming the first public aquarium to display flashlight fish and coconut octopuses to advancing exploration of the ocean’s mysterious “twilight zone,” innovation and scientific excellence are in its DNA. The Academy’s aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
  • Osher Rainforest: Housed within a spectacular 90-foot-diameter glass dome, the rainforest exhibit is the largest of its kind in the world. With temperatures of 82-85 degrees and humidity at 75 percent or above, it will instantly transport visitors to some of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The rainforest’s living plants include trees like the Brazilian beauty leaf and West Indies mahogany, dozens of shrubs—including Theobroma cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made—and hundreds of flowering plants, from begonias and philodendrons to orchids and bromeliads. More than 1,600 live animals reside in the rainforest dome, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies and close to 100 exotic reptiles and amphibians.
  • Kimball Natural History Museum: The Kimball Natural History Museum is an embodiment of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. While featuring immersive exhibits that illustrate the patterns and processes of evolution, it also explores ways we can help protect that diversity. The Museum features taxidermy animals, South African penguin colony and the Human Odyssey evolution exhibit.
  • Morrison Planetarium shows are fueled by cutting-edge scientific data, resulting in stunning visualizations of the latest findings, discoveries, and theories about our Universe. Every star or galaxy a viewer encounters in the planetarium precisely mirrors a real-world counterpart, and when this virtual cosmos is projected onto Morrison’s 75-foot-diameter screen, the dome itself seems to disappear, resulting in a uniquely immersive experience. Please note the Senior Director of Exhibits does not manage planetarium programming.

If you would like to apply, or would like to get more information, please connect with Koya Partners at [email protected].