For the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, 2012 was a difficult year. Its fall benefit was canceled because of superstorm Sandy, and contributions usually earmarked for the museum went to not-for-profits handling Long Islanders' more immediate needs. Not the ideal time for an executive to take the helm.
But Nomi Dayan, who became executive director in 2013 after five years as program director, embraced the challenges, expanding programs and creating innovative collaborations. Dayan, 32, received the 2013 Rising Star Award by the Museum Association of New York and in 2012 spoke at the National Small Museum Association conference.
About 20,000 people visit the museum or attend a program each year. The museum is known for relating exhibits to the community. Sea Ink, coming Oct. 18, will highlight the history and iconography of tattoos and work of local artists.
"I think of museums as places to experience things," Dayan explained. "The word museum comes from the word muse. Museums [should be] places we draw inspiration from, places that ignite that spark of understanding."
Why museum education? Why whales?
I love having things tell a story. I have a love of identifying things in the world. When I was at [my first job, at the Prospect Park] zoo, I also realized that I loved being around children and explaining to children about the things I showed them.
A 2013 report showed millennial donors prefer to fund social rather than artistic needs. Has that changed the way the museum fundraises?
Things are different than 10 years ago. Very few people just give for the sake of philanthropy. They want to know where their dollars are going. You try to connect with people who identify with your mission.
How do you make museums matter to a generation that's tied to a keyboard?
I still believe people come to a museum to see the real thing. It's also a social experience. In our signage we encourage people to talk about it, or to make up funny names. Getting people to appreciate things in a social context . . . turns it into an experience.
What's one of the wackiest programs you've done?
During camp this year we did deep-sea day. We did everything with the lights off, and the kids had glow sticks and did glow-in-the-dark crafts.
Whales are big, the museum is small. What are the challenges?
I try to promote our small museum as a little treasure. There is also a degree of ownership in a small museum where you feel you can leave and have had a complete experience.
You're active in professional groups. Why is this important to you?
It's important to give back to the field. When I go to events for the associations, I don't see competitors, I see colleagues. I see friends. We're all committed to making a difference.
NAME: Nomi Dayan, executive director, Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum
WHAT IT DOES: Teach visitors of all ages about whales and the history of whaling on Long Island
EMPLOYEES: 4 full time, 8 part time