Nearly a year after its longtime president stepped down, the Museum of Science has named a successor to steer the Boston institution’s expansion amid a difficult financial period.
Tim Ritchie, who has more than 15 years at the helm of smaller science centers, will start his new job in February 2020, the Museum of Science said Wednesday. Since 2011, he has served as president of The Tech Interactive, a STEM museum located in San Jose, Calif., which received a National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2015. Before joining The Tech, Ritchie was president of the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Ala.
Those institutions aren’t as big as the Museum of Science, which regularly sees more than 1.4 million visitors a year. By comparison, the Tech Interactive, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, reported an average attendance rate of 500,000.
Ritchie’s appointment comes during a tumultuous year for the Boston museum, which has been run by an interim president since the departure of Ioannis Miaoulis in January. The museum has also struggled financially, prompting interim leader Wayne Bouchard to cut 29 positions in July; 21 people retired and eight were laid off. The Globe also reported in November that box office employees felt pressured to sell visitors on premium attractions or see their hours cut.
Todd Sperry, who oversees marketing and communications at the museum, told the Globe in November that the museum continues to struggle with the rising costs of building maintenance and said the museum’s engineering curriculum was not generating revenue as expected. In 2004, the Museum of Science spearheaded a curriculum program entitled Engineering is Elementary that serves educators and children from kindergarten to eighth grade. The founder and director of the program, Christine Cunningham, left the museum this spring.
Ritchie, 58, will lead the museum as it pursues a 10-year master plan that includes major renovations to its main exhibition wing and IMAX theater. The museum plans to open two new permanent exhibits next fall: one, an immersive look into polar environments; the other, an expanded engineering design workshop.
“We are thrilled to welcome Tim back to Boston to lead the Museum during an era of unparalleled growth and transformation. The Museum is strong on every measure, and Tim is well positioned to deliver our essential mission,” Bouchard said in a statement on Ritchie’s appointment. Ritchie earned his master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.
The Museum of Science did not respond to requests for further comment or to make Ritchie available for an interview.
Ritchie took over leadership of the Tech Interactive after its previous president, Peter Freiss, resigned. Under Freiss’s leadership, attendance at the museum waned — even as his compensation rose — and layoffs and attrition thinned the staff from 150 to about 90. In Ritchie’s eight years at the museum, it was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor for a US museum, in 2015 and the Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award, which recognizes extraordinary accomplishments in business practice, visitor experience, and leadership, in 2019.
Ritchie told the Mercury News one of his next missions were he to stay in San Jose would have been to increase The Tech’s endowment to the point where admission prices — currently $25 for adults and $20 for kids — could be reduced.
At $29 per an adult and $24 per a child plus a la carte options, the Museum of Science charges steeper admissions fees than nearly all major science centers throughout the country.
He will officially leave The Tech Interactive next month.
“Boston is getting a real one in Ritchie. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is deeply beloved here at the center and in the Silicon Valley,” said Jeff Gire, the director of media and community at the San Jose center.
In his second to last year as president of The Tech Interactive, Ritchie took home a salary of $368,727. Miaoulis, the former Museum of Science president, began his 16-year tenure with a comparable salary of $357,701 but reported $626,000 in total compensation — a 75 percent increase — on the museum’s 2016 tax filing, the most recent available publicly.
In addition to his master’s from Harvard, Ritchie earned a law degree from Duke Law School and his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College. His wife, Christine, serves as the director of palliative care and geriatric medicine research at MGH, as well as the director of a newly established Center for Aging and Serious Illness at the hospital.