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Sheila Cushman

Paul Wellman

Sheila Cushman


The S.B. Questionnaire: Sheila Cushman

Talking Tenacity with the Leader of Santa Barbara’s New Children’s Museum


I first met the very tenacious Sheila Cushman 12 years ago, when she was the director of education at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and wanted to find ways to collaborate with the film fest. She’s very polite and soft spoken, but there’s a steady determination in her manner. When she gets an idea or project in mind, there’s no stopping her.

That resolve is the reason why a new children’s museum broke ground in Santa Barbara this past October. Located at 125 State Street, MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation will open its doors in the summer of 2016 and feature interactive exhibits that will inspire curiosity for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math to children ages “1 to 92.”

Below, Sheila, who’s definitely always had plenty of “moxie” herself, answers the Proust questionnaire.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Taking a simple idea in 2006 to create a new learning opportunity for children to a glorious reality in 2014. This involved convincing the City of Santa Barbara in 2007 to lease the property; receiving unanimous approval by the Planning Commission in 2012; preventing the property from being seized and sold in 2013; receiving unanimous approval from the Historic Landmarks Commission in 2014; and, joyously, breaking ground on October 15, 2014. I could never have imagined such a journey, and I’m fortunate to be part of an impressive and committed team making it all happen.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

We’ve recently gone through a rebranding process, changing the name of the museum to MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. As a result, we have new language to describe what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Every day, I’m out speaking with our stakeholders about MOXI, and I get to use these wonderful, new phrases over and over again: “powerfully playful,” “contagiously curious,” “fun forward,” “always active,” and (my favorite) “playground for the brain.”

What is your most marked characteristic?

I wouldn’t have realized this a decade ago, but I’m happy to learn after all these years that I’m Tenacious (with a capital T).

What do you like most about your job?

Everything! I’m so very fortunate to be involved in creating a vibrant, new, one-of-a-kind educational experience for Santa Barbara’s families and children. Every single day, I have the chance to connect with parents, teachers, and youth-serving agencies that can’t wait for us to open our doors. How great is that?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting with Steve on the patio looking out at our beautiful city and the islands, with a chilled martini in hand and a bone-in ribeye on the grill.

What is your greatest fear?

I’m very concerned about the world we’re leaving for future generations. What will life be like for my 7-year-old grandson?

Who do you most admire?

I admire my husband, Steve. He’s smart, fun, kind, creative, optimistic, visionary — the perfect life partner.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Some people might call art an extravagance, but, for Steve and me, art is essential to our well-being. We have a wonderful collection of paintings and sculpture, mostly by local artists, that brings us joy every single day.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m hopeful that MOXI has clear, blue skies ahead after weathering a decade of pretty fierce storms.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Optimism is essential — and intoxicating.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

I will go to great lengths to avoid being around negative people.

What do you most value in friends?

Kindness and intelligence.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to play an instrument. When I watch musicians playing, they’re so “in the groove,” oblivious to everything around them. I want that.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m pretty intense. I need to learn how to chill.

Where would you most like to live?

Ile St. Louis, Paris.

What is your most treasured possession?

I treasure my old photo albums, the ones that my mom so artfully maintained over the years and those I created for our family. We’ve had to evacuate twice over the last few years (Tea and Jesusita fires) and our cars were filled with boxes of old photo albums and favorite art works.

Who makes you laugh the most?

What can I say? I’m addicted to John Oliver.

What is your motto?

Just do it.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

This will sound strange, but sometimes I feel like I’m Enrico Rastelli, supposedly the world’s greatest juggler, trying to keep all the balls and plates in the air. Now all I need is that great background music …

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