Julie Butcher Pezzino and her kids, Aurora and Salvatore. Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

Before Julie Butcher Pezzino and her husband, Andrew, made the decision to move from Pittsburgh to Portland, they visited the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine to get a sense of the museum and its presence in the city.

“I saw the museum as an indicator of what the quality of life would be like when we moved here,” Butcher Pezzino said. “I certainly wasn’t disappointed.”

Two years later, Butcher Pezzino is the museum’s new executive director. The museum board Thursday named her as the replacement for Suzanne Olson, who is retiring.

Butcher Pezzino begins her new job on July 8. She will oversee the museum’s $13.75 million capital campaign and building project. The museum plans to move from its current Free Street location to a new building, still to be built, at Thompson’s Point in 2020.

Butcher Pezzino, 38, worked as executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy lifestyles for low-income residents, for eight years before moving to Portland. In Portland, she has been a principal at Butcher Consulting and on the board of directors of Full Plates, Full Potential, which addresses hunger in Maine.

“But perhaps most important, I am a mom,” she said. “That is my most important job. I am a mom to an almost-4-year-old and 6-year-old.”

The couple’s daughter is a kindergartner at Reiche Elementary School in Portland’s West End, and Butcher Pezzino is a member of Reiche PTO.

She sees her skills as a mother translating well to her work at the museum. “What I love most about being a mom is also one of the biggest challenges about being a mom. Both of my children are so different, they challenge me in positive ways every day to think in different ways about their education, how they learn and what excites them,” she said.

“We need to be able to do that for every kid who comes through our doors. Every kid who comes through our doors is different, but we have an opportunity to help them learn,” she said.

She arrives at the museum and theater during a time of transition. The museum on Free Street, located directly next to the Portland Museum of Art, is on the real estate market and the museum is in the midst of a fundraising campaign that will help pay for a new, larger building at Thompson’s Point that will include a 100-seat theater, exhibitions focused on science, technology, engineering and math, and an interactive aquarium.

Last week, the museum received a $500,000 Brownfields Grant to clean up hazardous materials at its 1.12-acre parcel at Thompson’s Point, which is necessary to begin construction.

“Obviously, the capital campaign is high on my mind and on my agenda. We are approaching our fundraising benchmark for our construction start, and we are hoping to have the new museum and theater open in 2020,” she said, declining to put a number on that benchmark or say how much has been raised so far.

“The design is done. Whenever we reach that fundraising benchmark, we are ready to put shovels in the ground and move this whole thing forward. As executive director, you are brought in to be the leadership voice for an organization. To manage the campaign is a big part of that, but we also have to keep up the good work we are doing at the current museum. My job is to fit all the puzzle pieces together.”

In a statement, museum board president Chris Doughty called Butcher Pezzino innovative, dedicated and focused on the community, and said her experience and skills will dovetail well with the museum during its transition.

“Our organization has steadily increased outreach and access to families in need, cultivated a unique, community-based education model for exhibits and programming, and is poised for expansion to a new, purpose-built facility on Thompson’s Point. At its new location, the museum hopes to double its attendance to 200,000,” Doughty said.

Butcher Pezzino said she and her family love the outdoors, “and I appreciate how Mainers embrace the winter and how easy it is to be active here in the winter.”

Her husband’s family has a cabin on Penobscot Bay and spent summers in Maine, she said. She grew up in the Hudson Valley, a couple of hours north of New York City.

They’re also big fans of the local music scene. They attend shows at the State Theatre, and Butcher Pezzino recently took her kids to see Trey Anastasio perform there.

Her sister runs a small record label out of Oakland, California, called the Long Road Society that supports local artists, and Pezzino’s musical interests run from indie rock and ’90s hip-hop to jazz, folk and country.


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