John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership

2023 AAM Awards Update: To better highlight and celebrate the museum professional community in all its diversity, we are in the process of redesigning an awards program that aligns with AAM’s strategic framework and centers equity and inclusion. As part of this process, this award program is temporarily on hold while we pilot a few updates to three other awards programs in 2023.

This award recognizes an individual, other than someone working directly with museum education programs, for efforts on behalf of public education and community service.

Nominations are now closed.

Eligible Nominees

  • museum directors
  • curators
  • researchers
  • exhibit designers
  • school administrators
  • government officials
  • those in foundations
  • corporations
  • training programs

Only practicing museum educators are ineligible since this award is designed to recognize those outside the field of museum education who exhibit outstanding leadership and promote the educational responsibility and capacity of museums.

The John Cotton Dana Award recognizes exemplary leadership. It is therefore awarded on an occasional basis (not annually) as extraordinary leadership is brought to the attention of the nominating committee through the nomination process.

This award was established in 1991 by EdCom in tribute to John Cotton Dana, founder, and director of the Newark Museum. During his life, he worked incessantly to make the museum a center of community service whose chief function was to be educational and interpretive.

Questions? (no award submissions please) Please contact Brooke Rosenblatt, EdCom Awards Lead (rosenblattb (a) si (dot) edu).



  • Dr. Debbie Cockerham, founding and current director of the Research and Learning Center at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
    The nomination included the following: “I can think of no better candidate for this award than Debbie, who tirelessly works to be a connector of people and a catalyst for change in the way that the public engages with museums.” Reasons that judges felt Dr. Cockerham should be presented with this award included: “Debbie has quite an impressive track record and her work as a researcher and mentor to researchers is impactful for museums and the field. This work is crucial for museums to grow and change to meet the needs of current and future audiences, as well as to be impactful and relevant for visitors” and “Amazing work! I really appreciate the nomination of someone from the research community to emphasize the important role they play in qualifying and quantifying the benefits of museums and museum learning. Her work with autism is also an impressive aspect of her resume as well as her efforts at community building between researchers, museums, visitors, and the community.”


  • Kris Nesbitt, senior director, exhibits and experience development, planning & design, John G. Shedd Aquarium
    One judge noted,”Kris’s work is at the intersection of leadership and education while engaging with the critical needs of all communities–accessibility and inclusion. While Kris’s work has been celebrated and acknowledged publicly, and she herself has served as a resource, bestowing the J[ohn] C[otton] D[ana] award on her will do double duty in acknowledging her work but also in magnifying the importance of including inclusion as part of our awards process – that this isn’t an inclusion/access award, it’s a leadership award that is acknowledging the work as critical for ALL museums.”


  • Cynthia Robinson, director of museum studies, Tufts University, MA
    Editor-in-chief, Journal of Museum Education
    Given to an individual other than someone working directly with museum education programs for their efforts on behalf of public education and community service, the judges cited Cynthia’s “strong advocacy for the educational responsibility and capacity of museums.” In her work with students, judges were impressed at how she encourages them to become activists, and how she has empowered more educators to publish and write by changing submission guidelines for the peer-reviewed Journal of Museum Education.  Her leadership to students and the field-at-large proudly follows in the footsteps of Dana.


  • Elizabeth (Elee) Wood, director of museum studies, associate professor of museum studies and teacher education, public scholar of museums, families and learning, Indiana University School of Liberal Arts, Indianapolis, IN
    Nominated by one of her students, Dr. Wood is well-published in the field of museums and has “continued to beat the drum of access, equity and outreach for museums – with a clear goal of making museums and their information available to all.” The impact of her work also extends through the hundreds of students she coached, mentored and taught over the years who have continued the commitment instilled in them by Dr. Wood. The judges applauded the impact Dr. Wood’s work has had on the field. As her nominator noted, “I can think of no other professional so deserving of the Dana award than Elee, in whose voice I hear every Dana quote I read.”


  • Lori Fogarty, director and CEO, Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), CA
    Fogarty has cultivated an institution-wide focus on the shared goal of “making more inspiring cultural experiences more accessible to more people and more different kinds of people.” In her time at OMCA, She has aligned resources around fostering a meaningful visitor experience, prioritized a participatory approach, and conceived a radical restructuring away from a typical hierarchical organizational chart to a flat structure composed of cross-functional teams.

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