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Columbia Museum Leader To Head Discovery Place

Catherine Wilson Horne, who leads the Columbia children’s museum EdVenture, was named the new president of Discovery Place on Tuesday.

Horne succeeds John Mackay, who is retiring at the end of December after 13 years of running the organization, which includes the flagship science center on Tryon Street, Charlotte Nature Museum, and Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville and Rockingham. Horne will begin in late January.

She joined EdVenture as executive director in 1996 when the museum was being planned. It opened in 2002 in downtown Columbia beside the State Museum on Gervais Street. It attracts about 230,000 visitors annually.

Discovery Place recorded 762,261 visitors in 2012 at its uptown center and satellites.

Horne said she learned to love museums from her mentor, George Terry, who served as dean of libraries at the University of South Carolina until his death in 2001.

“He never believed that a museum’s mission was contained by its physical surroundings,” she said. “He believed smaller museums could make as big an impact as could major museums like those in Chicago and New York. He taught me how important it was to cast the right vision and bring the best people along to serve the community.”

One factor that drew her to the job, she said, was Discovery Place’s new center for developing educators’ skills in teaching science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields. Located beside Discovery Place uptown, the center – developed in partnership with Bank of America, Duke Energy and UTC Aerospace Systems – is expected to open in the spring.

For eight years, she said, EdVenture has run a similar program, a summer institute for teachers focusing on how to bring science inquiry into the classroom. “What I love about that work is it gives us the opportunity to empower teachers and see their work come to life in the hearts and minds of the students,” Horne said.

Studied science and art

Horne, 56, is a Charlotte native, born at Presbyterian Hospital. She grew up in Chesterfield, S.C., about 20 miles south of Rockingham.

Horne started out as a chemistry major at Salem College in Winston-Salem, but later switched to art. She holds a graduate degree in art history from the University of South Carolina. She has worked as an exhibit developer, curator and consultant in the industry.

She has served on the boards of the South Carolina Federation of Museums, Southeastern Museums Conference and the Association of Children’s Museums. Horne has two adult children – a son who is a golf pro and a daughter who is a banker in London – and two Welsh corgis.

Selected from field of 46

Chris Perri, Discovery Place board chair, said Tuesday that the search committee, formed in July, started with 46 applicants and settled on Horne last week. She accepted the position Monday.

“Catherine is going to bring a new vigor to the role,” Perri said. “She’s a great, optimal combination of vision and passion and strategy and operational efficiency.”

Perri said Horne will be officially introduced to the community at Discovery Place’s “Unite to Ignite Gala” on Feb. 1.

“She’s a rock star within the industry,” Perri said.

Focus on interactivity

Like Discovery Place, EdVenture is a hands-on museum, teaching scientific concepts through interaction with youngsters. In 2011, EdVenture received a National Medal for Museum Service, the highest national award given to museums.

With a budget of $4.2million, EdVenture has a healthy balance sheet, with $1.4million raised annually through community gifts and pledges. Government grants and support totaled more than $1million in the most recent fiscal year. Discovery Place has an annual budget of $12.7million and runs an annual surplus.

“Out of an incredibly talented pool of candidates,” Mark McGoldrick, co-chair of the search committee, said in a statement, “we are delighted to have found someone with Catherine's mix of leadership, imagination and knowledge plus the proven ability to engage and fund raise.”