Former Milwaukee Public Museum CEO named Yerkes Observatory executive director

Dennis Kois

The nonprofit operator of Yerkes Observatory has named Dennis Kois, the former leader of the Milwaukee Public Museum, as its next executive director.

Kois, who currently is executive director of Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York, will begin in his new position at the Williams Bay-based organization on March 8.

It marks a return to the Milwaukee area for Kois, who was president and chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Public Museum from 2014 until 2018.

The Yerkes Future Foundation board of directors unanimously approved Kois’ appointment following a national search led by Koya Leadership Partners.

YFF, a nonprofit group that formed two years ago with the goal of conserving and reopening the conservatory to the public, touted Kois’ track record of “transformational leadership” at cultural institutions.

After acquiring the observatory from the University of Chicago last May, YFF has launched a campaign to restore the 124-year-old observatory. The University of Chicago closed the facility in 2018.

“We are deeply committed to preserving the rich scientific history of Yerkes Observatory and unlocking its potential to contribute to research and education on a global scale,” said Dianna Colman, board president of YFF. “After conducting a comprehensive executive search process, we have absolutely found the right leader to carry this meaningful mission forward. Dennis’ years of success in elevating cultural and scientific institutions onto the national stage, along with his local roots and profound respect for the history of the Observatory will benefit our community and build support statewide, nationally and internationally for Yerkes’ future.”

Prior to MPM, Kois was executive director of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Boston and previously held roles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

“I’m elated and humbled to accept this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chart a new course for Yerkes Observatory. Our community has the chance to build on the observatory’s 124-year legacy of groundbreaking scientific research, discoveries, and education—and to share one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets with new generations of explorers across the globe,” Kois said.

“I believe the dynamic YFF board and devoted community of supporters around Geneva Lake can secure Yerkes’ position as a platform for ongoing scientific research—even as we find new ways of growing public understanding of astronomy and build scientific literacy. If we want new generations of diverse scientists ready to address the big challenges of the future, enchanting beacons like Yerkes must thrive to attract and inspire them,” he added.

Yerkes Observatory. Image from Google.

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