Meet Joanna Cagan. She is the new Executive Director of WOW! Children’s Museum. WOW! Children’s Museum is committed to being a gathering place for all Boulder County children and families. They believe in the power of learning through play to improve our lives and community. They respect, value and celebrate the unique attributes, characteristics, and perspectives that make each person who they are. They also believe that bringing diverse individuals together allows us to better understand, support and engage our community. It is their aim, therefore, that the Museum and its programs are accessible, meaningful, and welcoming to all audiences.
Before working in WOW!, Joanna, worked as an Early Childhood Programs Manager at Denver Zoological Foundations and at Wildlife Conservation Society. Talking to her, you’ll quickly realize that she is someone who genuinely loves to help children and the community.
Congratulations Joanna in your new role at WOW! Children’s Museum! We are excited to see how your passion and heart allow you to grow and promote the programming of the museum.
Q: What inspired you or led you to your current career?
A: I’ve been in the industry called “informal education and museum zoo education” for many years. I was living in Louisville and had been working at the Denver Zoo in Early Childhood programs. So, connecting children to learning in informal institutions has been my thing. And I saw that there was an opening at WOW! Children’s Museum for Executive Director position and the timing was kind of perfect. I had been realizing that I probably needed to make a change. I was perfectly happy at the zoo, but I still wanted to push and challenge myself to the next adventure, but still staying in that bigger umbrella of how you connect young children to science, to arts, to learning and help support families in doing that too. The fact that the museum has such a strong reputation and it’s only 15 minutes from my house – I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Louisville or Lafayette, and what do you love there?
A: I have many, but my affection for Moxie Bread is off the charts because of the cafe environment, for the most amazing baked goods and breads. We go there once a week for a loaf of bread that we use on sandwiches. And also for their sense of community. We also love the two Thai places, Busaba and Phuket. Oh, and I love to go to the Indian restaurant Bawarchi for super casual diner feel and really amazing food. I’m just discovering Lafayette has so much to offer. And East Simpson Coffee Company and Cannon Mine Coffee, I can walk to both of them in 5 minutes from my office, which is something I am embedded with in this downtown feeling. Another restaurant that gives me the community feel is the Tacos Aya Yay – it’s the best Mexican food I’ve had we’ll often send visiting guests there. We go to Bob’s Diner as well. Old school diner feel, really nice, yummy food, and affordable.
Q: How long have you lived or worked in Louisville or Lafayette?
A: We moved here from New York City in July of 2015.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be? And why?
A: I’d probably want to go back to the west coast of Scotland, which is one of my favorite places. It’s beautiful and I love the water and mountains. So, it’s the combination of really charming small towns, rocky, beaches, water, and incredible marine life and birds. We’re a big outdoor family. I don’t need the tropical beach. I like access to interesting marine life.
Q: What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theatre?
A: Star Wars is the first movie I remember seeing in the theater. I’m old enough for the original and it had a tremendous impact. My favorite movie is Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson.
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: For me it is about children and the environment. Environment in every sense of the word. Children learn best through play and when they’re given freedom to explore. Research shows they also learn best when there’s an engaged adult at their side. So, the role of caregivers whether it’s their parents, an aunt, grandparents or a baby sitter, is to really nurture children’s sense of exploration and their sense of self. I feel lucky to be in the field that encourages that.
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
A: I would love to go to New Zealand. It just looks so beautiful, it seems to be a magical place, and an amazing landscape to see.
Q: What is your favorite music/ 3 bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
A: First, I’d love to see Prince. Then Oasis, because I had turned down the chance to see them. The third is The Beatles.
Q: What current / former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Louisville or Lafayette?
A: There are a lot, but it’s Moxie for sure. So welcoming, always strong feeling of community, and baked goods that rival anything I’ve had in New York. I am still learning Lafayette which is an amazing assignment. The Lafayette Cultural Arts Commission (LCAC), Lafayette is a city that’s incredibly dedicated to the art and to the public arts and so someone visiting Lafayette I would urge going to their gallery because they showcase community arts all the time which is so awesome. They also support the public art that you can see in the streets of Lafayette. I have never been in somewhere that has this level of public art.
Q: Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative with whom would you love to have lunch? Why and where would you have lunch?
A: Richard Louv. He’s one of the big influencers and thinkers in this movement of connecting children with nature and getting children back outdoors after all of this time spent with screens. He’s really an interesting thinker. We just opened a discovery garden at WOW!, so I would take him there. It’s little, but mighty in terms of chances for children to garden and jump to tree stumps. A drink with Michelle Obama would be interesting too.
Q: What is your favorite thing or something unique about Louisville or Lafayette?
A: We were excited to be moving out here. We were moving for a job that my husband got in Boulder and we were ready for a change from New York City. But, we were also partly nervous because neither of us were excited about our notion of what suburban living might be. For us, we enjoy the access of being able to walk to a bookstore, restaurant, cafe, or live music. My husband is British and always says he’s wanted to live where he can walk to a pub. We weren’t sure if we would find that kind of lifestyle and a number of folks suggested we look at Louisville and Lafayette due to the fact that they are small towns, that are walking towns. I think it’s partly because they were older towns, but also because there’s been that feeling and commitment to preservation, maintaining that ease of walkability as sort of a connected downtown where people want to go and be face to face.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
A: I would definitely like to see myself even more embedded in these communities. The Louisville and Lafayette areas have been very welcoming to us. We’re a double working parent family, so taking advantage of everything out there is hard. Sometimes I’ve thought about how, I know this is a great place for people raising kids, but it’s also a great place to retire (but I will not retire in 10 years).
Q: (Even for friends or family), what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A: I am actually quite shy. I describe myself as an extroverted introvert in the sense that I am comfortable with public speaking, I love representing my work and the passionate people in my field, but my energy comes from quiet time and slowing down. Another thing is that I love to sketch and draw, and I just do that kind of my own in that recharging time.
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: Nurturing, Family, and the smell of onions frying on the stove. I grew up outside of Cleveland, and when I came home from school my mom or dad would be cooking in the kitchen, NPR would be on the radio, and there would be food and onions cooking on the stove. It’s something cozy, loving, and they say that smell has a powerful memory.
Q: If you had a full time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose? Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
A: It would be a personal assistant… somebody who would organize and file bills and paperwork and keep the family calendar. My husband and I are both dedicated to our jobs, we’re both working for non-profit, and to family there’s really not enough time. We’re always running a bit ragged and, so I feel like the things about cooking and working out, even house cleaning, those things we enjoy. But, if somebody could take that logistical stuff that can drag ya down, oh it would be so nice!
Q: If you were cast into a major motion picture and had your choice of anyone to be your co-star, who would you choose?
A: I adore Annette Bening. I think she has the most beautiful smile and I love everything she’s in.
Q: Will there be anything you would like to improve or add something in the community of Louisville or Lafayette?
A: I wish Louisville was more diverse. One of the things that I really love about Lafayette is that it feels more diverse in every sense.