TAMPA — John Graydon Smith, who formerly led museums in Troy, N.Y., and Reading, Pa., is the new president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The museum’s board hired Smith after a national search that began last year following the retirement of Julian Mackenzie. Smith agreed to a contract through 2025 and was to be introduced to the staff of the museum, more widely known by the acronym MOSI, on Wednesday.
“We are thrilled to have a leader with the experience and museum knowledge John brings to MOSI. He has a grand vision, and the leadership skills to help us make it a reality,” Bret Feldman, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said in a statement.
Smith led the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology in Troy, N.Y., from 2006 to 2010 as it rebranded from a children’s museum into a science center, eventually making Parents magazine’s list of top 20 science centers nationally in 2008 and 2009. Smith also oversaw a rejuvenation of the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pa.
A statement from the Museum of Science and Industry characterized Smith, 46, as a business leader with experience in turnaround projects. It is “a skill set to which the museum board gravitated as it looks to rebound from the COVID-19 induced setbacks to a revitalization effort that has been years in the making.”
The museum complex on Hillsborough County-owned land on Fowler Avenue began in 1981 and its existing facilities include five buildings, only three of which are occupied. Approximately 364,000 square feet of space, including the former IMAX Theater, were left unoccupied following a 2017 downsizing.
The pandemic brought a two-month shutdown in spring 2020 and the museum ended the fiscal year with a $925,000 deficit. A skeptical County Commission majority agreed last year to lend the museum just $250,000 of the $400,000 it requested and warned that it would be the final bailout until the museum could produce a self-sustaining business plan.
“I’m not looking backward generally speaking,” Smith said in an interview. “The part of the past that led us to where we are now is possibly an overexpansion and or an undercapitalization of the expansion. That’s something you need to be careful of.”
So don’t expect a reopening of the Imax Theater or fully occupying 300,000 square feet of additional space in 2022 “at least not based from what I’ve seen thus far,” he said.
But what you can expect is a museum, with room for growth and improvement, that still provides a top-notch educational experience for visitors.
“What we have there now is still quality, it is still good and still there is plenty to build on,” Smith said. “Room for growth is not a bad thing. It’s better than being landlocked and having no ability to expand in the future.”
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One of the first steps is a coming announcement of a summer exhibition that will run pre-Memorial Day to post-Labor Day.
“We need to give people a reason to come and check it out because if you haven’t been there since the downsize you don’t really know what you’re missing,” he said.