Director leaving Orpheum; facility contemplates expansion

Director leaving Orpheum; facility contemplates expansion

CHAMPAIGN — The Orpheum Children's Science Museum in Champaign will be looking for a new executive director after former Executive Director Sonya Darter resigned earlier this month.

Darter said she's leaving on good terms.

"I am excited to change my role with the Orpheum and continue to volunteer in several capacities," she said. "I remain deeply committed to the Orpheum remaining an important community resource."

Darter said she wants to spend more time with her family, which was the driving force behind her decision to leave.

"I'm rejoining a local science and engineering firm," Darter said.

Meanwhile, board President Mark Peden said the Orpheum will look for a new executive director with fundraising and capital project experience, in order to implement the museum's strategic plan. In the meantime, it may name an interim director in the next few weeks.

The board's long-term goal is to build and possibly connect a new building to the current historic Orpheum theater. It could do so on the parking lot to the north of the current museum, and possibly on another adjacent lot to the northeast.

The lots are owned by the city, Peden said, and the museum's informal agreement with the city is that the space would be available if the museum wants to expand.

"That's the long-term vision we have for the Orpheum Children's Science Museum," Peden said.

The board is looking for an executive director "able to tap into members of the community who would have a vested interest in seeing the children's museum expand," he said.

The museum has outgrown the floor space it has, Peden said, which means some of its exhibits are in storage.

If that expansion happened, the museum's board would probably look to renovate the actual theater "more than it already is," to have a working stage.

Then, it would be a true multipurpose facility, Peden said, and could be used for events such as dance recitals and other live performances.

The city has been looking into developing the parking lot to the west of the Orpheum as a green space.

Peden said the museum's board members want the city to know that their long-term goal is for the museum to anchor the north end of downtown Champaign.

"The children's science museum is committed to the downtown area," Peden said, and those involved want to see downtown thrive and become a destination for families.

However, the expansion idea is still in the planning stages.

Peden said graduate architecture students at the University of Illinois have come up with some conceptual models of how it might look, but the board doesn't have any architectural drawings. He said the museum would probably work with the city as it decides on a design concept.

Peden said Darter is "absolutely" leaving on good terms.

"She has agreed to stay on as a non-paid consultant," he said, to finish the museum's annual report and to reapply for a tax increment financing grant for the museum's storefront.

"Her family has volunteered over the years," Peden said, and Darter has made it clear that they'll continue to do so.

Darter said she's been with the Orpheum eight years, first as a board member and then executive director. She just celebrated her fifth anniversary in that role.

She said she set goals for the organization when she started the job.

"I've reached most of those goals, and feel like the timing is right for me to contribute in a different capacity," she said.

Darter said it's bittersweet to leave the museum.

"I feel privileged to have been a part of the museum's mission of inspire, engage and educate children through exploration of science and the arts," she said. "Last summer, we awarded over 130 scholarships, and that is something I'll miss — directly making a difference in children's lives on a daily basis."

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