Children’s Museum Executive Director
Janice O’Donnell Steps Down
Museum Recognizes 35-Year Legacy Devoted to Children and Families
PROVIDENCE, RI – Providence Children’s Museum announces that Executive Director Janice O’Donnell will leave the Museum on Friday, November 28 to pursue other projects.
A University of Rhode Island graduate with a background in teaching and independent school administration, O’Donnell joined the staff of the fledgling Children’s Museum of Rhode Island in 1979, two years after it opened in Pawtucket, RI. After serving in numerous capacities, she stepped into the role of interim director when the Museum’s founding director, Jane Jerry, left to lead Houston Children’s Museum in Texas. Following a national search, the Museum’s Board of Directors appointed O’Donnell Executive Director in 1985.
In her 29 years as Executive Director, Janice O’Donnell oversaw the successful completion of a $3 million capital campaign for the Museum’s expansion and relocation to Providence’s Jewelry District in 1997, major building restoration and exhibit expansion in 2010, and the development of dozens of innovative high-quality play and learning environments. Under her direction, the Museum received a 2014 Rhode Island Foundation Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence Best Practice Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership among the state’s nonprofit organizations.
Throughout her career, O’Donnell has been guided by the idea that play is essential to learning. She led the Museum in developing Learning Clubs, which provide joyful learning experiences for Providence’s inner-city children; a partnership with greater Providence Head Start; and Families Together, the Museum’s nationally recognized therapeutic visitation program for families who have been separated by court order. At the time of her departure, she heads an organization that has more than 160,000 visitors annually, an operating budget of $2 million and 40 staff members.
A leader in her field, Ms. O’Donnell has served as an advisor to children’s museums and other institutions nationwide. She is the president of the Board of Directors of The Learning Community Charter School in Central Falls, RI and has served on the Board of the international Association of Children’s Museums. She was selected by the RI Foundation's Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence for their 2013 Fellows program and used the accompanying funds to pursue in-depth study of “playwork,” a model for supporting children's self-directed play as practiced in the United Kingdom.
“It has truly been a privilege to steer the ship that is the Children's Museum for all these years,” said O’Donnell. “I feel so fortunate that I have been able to do what I love and work toward making the world a better place for children and families. I'm looking forward to next ventures – which will certainly focus on kids' free choice learning and play, and expand on efforts already underway in our community.”
The Museum’s Board of Directors has formed a search committee to find a President/COO to lead the Museum, though O’Donnell will continue to work on a consulting basis with the Museum’s renowned Families Together program. Museum Director of Communications Megan Fischer, who has been with the organization in many capacities for over 10 years, will serve as interim director.
“The Museum has a stellar senior leadership team, all of whom are experienced, hard working and committed to their work,” said O’Donnell. “The Museum is in good hands and continues to be financially stable, innovative and more popular than ever.”
“The Museum community is deeply grateful to Janice O’Donnell for her 35 years of visionary leadership, unwavering passion, and tireless commitment to children and families,” said Fischer. “We have learned an extraordinary amount from her and will resolutely serve the Museum’s mission to inspire learning through play to continue her legacy.”