Scott Cooper, president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, today announced the appointment of Niki Ciccotelli Stewart as the institution’s first-ever chief learning and engagement officer.
Stewart, a New Jersey native, joins the Academy following 10 transformative years in Bentonville, Ark., where she helped conceptualize, establish and advance one of the country’s most progressive art museums — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She starts at the Academy April 29.
“We are delighted to welcome Niki to Philadelphia. She is an outstanding leader with an extraordinary depth and breadth of experience,” said Cooper. “Niki will be central to our ambitious plans to unlock the full potential of our much-loved institution.”
Stewart will be responsible for revitalizing the Academy experience — onsite, offsite and online.
“Niki is an outstanding artist, educator and administrator with an exceptional record of success. She is central to our plans to bring a fresh, provocative and innovative approach to the way our institution delivers programs that are not only educational and enjoyable, but inspire real change,” Cooper said.
“There’s an urgent need for civic institutions such as ours to not only inform people of the irremediable damage being wrought upon our environment, but to spur them into action,” Cooper continued. “At the Academy we are positioning ourselves to be the place in which communities, scientists and change agents can come together to have the critical conversations needed to help save our planet.”
Stewart concurred. “Between the Academy’s incredible collections and current research initiatives, there are thousands of important stories to share — each one deeply relevant to our everyday lives. These stories shape our understanding of the natural world, spark our curiosity, and inspire us to take action. I am excited to join the team as we begin to reimagine the natural history museum experience and share all of these stories even more broadly,” Stewart said.
Stewart has spent most of her career in the arts world and joined Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., in 2008, three years before the museum opened to the public. Crystal Bridges is a world-class museum known for its collection of American masterworks ranging from the colonial era to the current day. The museum serves more than 45,000 students each year and provides popular lectures, performances and classes.
As a member of the opening team, Stewart helped take the museum concept from idea to reality, simultaneously building the physical site, operations and programming. At her most recent position as chief engagement officer, she worked closely with all museum departments to deliver an outstanding, meaningful and engaging experience for more than 600,000 guests each year.
She was also responsible for local and national partnership development and new project development at Crystal Bridges. She had served as the museum’s director of education, director of exhibitions and interpretation, and head of school programs.
Prior to joining Crystal Bridges, Stewart worked at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., and in Florida public schools. She also worked with The Walt Disney Company for nearly a decade in entertainment, costuming and educational programming. She was part of the opening team of The Disney Institute and helped build and launch the second ship in the Disney Cruise Line’s fleet, The Disney Wonder.
A native of Pennsauken, N.J., Stewart attended Moore College of Art and Design from 1986 to 1991 and The College of New Jersey from 1990 to 1991. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota. Stewart plans to move to Center City with her husband, Paul, who teaches English to middle and high school students. Their son, Max, is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he earned his degree in Geography and International Studies.