New president/CEO Mike Delfini is ready to take Kohl Children’s Museum to the next level and have fun doing it.
Mike Delfini, who has spent his professional life working at Chicago museums and institutions, began as a graphic designer. It’s been an ideal career combo for Delfini, who says, “I married my love for design with my love for museums.” A first-generation Italian-American, born and raised in Chicago, Delfini was impressed at a young age by shows like the 1977 blockbuster King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum.
“When I came out of design school, I literally knocked at the door of the Field Museum with my portfolio,” he recalls. He spent four years designing exhibits there, often spending his lunch hours across the street at Shedd Aquarium, where he’d enjoy the soothing company of the sea creatures in the Caribbean Reef habitat. When he saw an announcement about the new Oceanarium, “I thought, ‘Boy, this sleepy aquarium is about to wake up, and I’d like to be a part of that.’” Delfini joined Shedd and worked there for 27 years, eventually becoming executive vice president and chief operating officer and leading Shedd through two major capital initiatives.
Now, after a stint as COO at Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater and Cultural Center, Delfini brings his experience to Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview (kcmgc.org), where he’ll assume the role of president/CEO, replacing Sheridan Turner, who held the position for over 20 years. Delfini actually collaborated with Turner on the Kohl turtle exhibit. “Everyone asks me, am I going to bring a bunch of animals to Kohl?” laughs Delfini. “And the fact is, we just might. There are some great opportunities for kids to learn about and interact with animals.”
Delfini’s plans for Kohl don’t stop there. “I really think the museum is poised to do something big and grand. I don’t know what that idea is yet, but what I’m good at is setting up a process with the right folks at the table to find out.” While considering the museum’s bright future, Delfini is certain that Kohl will continue to provide kids informal learning environments with exhibits like the current Nature Cat: Backyard and Beyond. “That’s what makes museums great,” he says.
Photography by: Pele Joez