Seven Questions for Linda Quinn, Discovery Children’s Museum CEO

The Discovery Children’s Museum boss on her career path, the rebirth of her facility and what our museum community is lacking

As a onetime CPA, Linda Quinn certainly knows how to crunch numbers. But these days, when the Discovery Children’s Museum’s CEO cracks open the books, she probably has to crunch the numbers a few times, just to make sure they’re accurate. That’s because since moving from the city’s Cultural Corridor to its new digs in Symphony Park, the museum has been a huge hit—so much so that in the six weeks since the March 9 reopening, Quinn says the museum sold as many memberships as it had in the previous year. And over the eight days of spring break, the museum welcomed more guests than in any previous month. “We are seeing 4½ times more volume than at the old facility,” she says.

Thanks to a new space that’s about twice the size of the old one, Quinn projects the museum—which has exhibits geared toward children ages 12 and under (but with programs for teenagers as well)—will surpass 300,000 visitors this year, which would more than double last year’s attendance of 140,000. For Quinn—a law school graduate with a passion for education—the real value of the museum’s success isn’t financial but social: The Discovery Museum, along with being a fun outing, is a vibrant place to learn in a community that desperately needs such places.

You moved to Las Vegas from Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2006. What were your first thoughts when you got here?

Thank goodness! I was so happy to see mountains—I’ve always loved mountains of any kind, so that was my first reaction. Then, within a short period, I had someone do something kind for me, which felt very Southern in nature. Within two weeks I felt like I was at home.

Of course, losing all of that North Carolina greenery was an adjustment, but from a community perspective, I acclimated quickly.

How did a former CPA who also has a law degree wind up with a career in museums?

After I graduated from law school I needed a job, so I stepped into nonprofits. My first nonprofit job was with the American Red Cross. I loved it. I loved bringing my business background into a mission-oriented job and the feeling of my work being so meaningful. So it was really a natural progression to step into the museum world, which is all about children being happy and families having fun. You make them having a good time the basis of an educational experience. It spoke to a real core value for me, so I was home.

What’s the purpose of a children’s museum?

To ignite a passion for learning in an informal setting. It’s different from what a teacher in a school can do. We give them a hands-on approach, letting them get a feel for a concept by interacting with it physically.

How has the museum changed with the new facility?

From a facility standpoint, we went from more big, open floors and moved into galleries. The new museum consists of nine galleries over three stories instead of two floors that housed more than 100 component exhibits. From another perspective, instead of component exhibits, each gallery is themed, so you learn within a particular themed gallery such as Toddler Town, Young at Art, Fantasy Festival or Patents Pending, to name a few.

The galleries give parents an opportunity to contain children, and it helps with noise level. It also helps us with programming, as each gallery is designed around our core education values of arts, science and early childhood development.

What’s been the most unexpected outcome since the museum relocated?

To some degree, the success we’re having. Naturally, we had planned for success—to be bigger and better—and now we’re here, but seeing it happen to [such] a degree is a pleasant surprise. It creates new challenges but good challenges. The community has really embraced us, much to our delight.

What’s the one museum Las Vegas needs most?

Good question. I think the trick here is we have a lot of good museums that people don’t know about. So it’s not that we’re really missing something as much as we need to do a better job collaboratively of telling people about what really is here.

More difficult: passing the bar exam or the CPA exam?

[Laughs.] I honestly didn’t sit for the bar exam, so I can’t answer that one. I can tell you the CPA exam was no fun.