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Children’s Museum Announces New Executive Director

Missy DiNunno has been appointed executive director of The Children's Museum Group. Courtesy photo

Missy DiNunno will become the executive director of the West Hartford-based Children’s Museum Group as of July 15, 2024.

Children’s Museum at Emanuel Synagogue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

Missy DiNunno has worked her way up the ladder in management of arts organizations over the past 20 years, and has spent the past six-plus years as the executive director of the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center. She could not be more excited to take her latest career step and has accepted the appointment as executive director of the West Hartford-based Children’s Museum Group effective July 15, 2024.

When DiNunno learned about the Children’s Museum position, she saw it as the opportunity to funnel her passion for her work and have an “important impact on youth,” she said in an interview with We-Ha.com.

DiNunno, a native of Oxford, CT, who has lived in Southington for the past 15 years and has two children, 8 and 12, said she’s personally known the Children’s Museum as a young child herself and through the eyes of her brother who is seven years her junior, and as a parent. She’s excited to now get to know the staff and all who interact with the Museum, the Children’s Museum Preschool, and Roaring Brook Nature Center in this new role – and to take on the organization’s challenges.

“Everyone knows [the Museum] is looking to identify its new home,” said DiNunno. The recent news about the relocation of Conny’s tail to a new home along the Trout Brook Trail greenway in West Hartford brought that public conversation back into the forefront, and engaging in that process is just one of the important tasks she sees ahead.

DiNunno has worked in the front of the house at the Bushnell, she’s drafted emergency response plans, and she’s willing to be so hands-on that she’s even operated a forklift. No stranger to transitions and challenges – having weathered a major transition at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and leadership of a performing arts venue during the pandemic – DiNunno’s skills include experience with fundraising, communications, strategic planning, operations, community engagement, and staff and volunteer development.

When she first left The Bushnell, where she had risen to the role of associate director of operations, it wasn’t because she didn’t love her job. She said her mentor encouraged her, saying, “Missy, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you stayed here.” She moved on to the Schubert Theater in New Haven, but when the role with Simsbury Meadows became available, she was intrigued.

That’s where she has worked since January 2018 – out of what she calls a “she-shed with four walls and spiders” on the grounds of the Simsbury Meadows. For the first four-and-a-half years she was the only full-time staff member, and was responsible for fundraising, finance, human resources, operations. “It taught me to really hone in on partnerships, on building relationships.”

In addition to the search for a permanent home for the Children’s Museum and Preschool – which have been operating out of space in the Emanuel Synagogue at 180 Mohegan Drive in West Hartford since the fall of 2022, looming ahead is the organization’s 100th anniversary in 2027.

DiNunno said she’s excited to get to know the team and operations, to be working with the experienced staff, and “really digging into the community and building those partnerships.”

Her first task, she said, is to “get to know the team and operations, to focus on internal and external operations. I don’t want to cram ideas down anyone’s throat,” DiNunno said. “I am only as good as my employees.”

That said, she added that she looks forward to “innovating beyond the walls.” That includes building the brand and capitalizing on the relationships among the three entities that form The Children’s Museum Group and their positions in the community. Many don’t even realize that Roaring Brook Nature Center is part of the organization.

DiNunno said she recently brought her own children to Roaring Brook Nature Center for the first time – not telling anyone that she was going to be the new executive director. “From the moment I walked in the door … we were greeted, told about the scavenger hunt … it was such a wonderful experience.” The site is so peaceful, she said, and one of the best-kept secrets, and her children can’t wait to return.

Something else DiNunno said she is really passionate about, and has made a priority at Simsbury Meadows, is diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I’ve always had a passion for providing access … bringing people together and being committed to providing programming that involves everyone in the community” she said, noting that one of her favorite projects at The Bushnell was creating the first sensory-friendly events. She had the formerly gravel parking lot at the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center paved so the site would be more accessible, has added sign language interpreters, and the venue has hosted galas for the 100 Men of Color and 100 Women of Color organizations.

Fundraising will also be critical, and DiNunno said it’s so closely tied to relationship-building, brand, and programming.

It’s bittersweet leaving the staff she built at Simsbury Meadows – which has now grown to a five-person team, she said, “but I am looking forward to the new challenge … the experience of a job that feeds young people.”

Ayesha Clarke, chair of The Children’s Museum Group board, said she was excited to share the news. In the announcement, she noted DiNunno’s  “20-year career as a leader in the nonprofit sector” and broad experience, and her success building Simsbury Meadows into one of Southern New England’s largest outdoor performance venues.

Clarke noted that Michael Werle, who has served as executive director for the past eight years and announced his retirement in December, “will remain with the organization in a consulting role after July 15 to assist in the process of development of a new site for the Children’s Museum and Preschool.”

DiNunno will officially begin her new job on July 15. She said she made a commitment to staying in Simsbury for the first Hartford Symphony Orchestra outdoor concert of the year on June 28, and will take a few weeks of vacation before moving into her office at the Mohegan Drive location and will be looking for feedback from all stakeholders, including lifelong patrons.

“I’m excited to be part of the West Hartford community,” she said.

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