The Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM) is kicking off a new era in its 30-year history with the appointment of a new president, who brings years of cultural and administrative experience, as well as time working alongside her predecessor, to the table.
On April 10, LICM announced that Erika S. Floreska has been named as the new president of the museum, taking over from retiring president Suzanne LeBlanc, who was served in that role for 17 years. Floreska will officially assume her role as president on June 3.
Prior to joining LICM is director of development in 2020, Floreska served in leadership roles at cultural and educational organizations such as the Bloomingdale School of Music, Tectonic Theater Project, and Jazz at Lincoln Center over the course of her 30-year career.
Following a nationwide search for LICM’s new president, Floreska also spent the past year learning directly from her predecessor as the two administrators prepared for the transition and upcoming hand-off.
In an interview with Anton Media Group, Floreska and LeBlanc spoke warmly of one another’s work and of the museum’s ongoing, growing impacts in the community.
“The community work is definitely what inspired me to want this position and to continue this legacy,” Floreska said.
“Most of my career was in the city, so it’s really rewarding to be working in the community I raised my kids in, and to be giving back.”
When she hired Floreska for the museum’s development office back in 2020, LeBlanc said, it did occur to her “Erika would make an excellent president.” After a nationwide search, which included several other “excellent candidates,” LeBlanc said, she and the board were happy that the role ultimately went to someone already part of the LICM community.
“My kids are a freshman and sophomore in college, and I used to bring them here to the museum all the time during their formative years; we were members for seven or eight years. So it’s really come full circle to be back here at the museum.”
When her children were young, Floreska said, “My daughter loved the climber, that was her favorite thing ever, and my son was really big with blocks and building things.”
“During the first months of COVID, when the museum was closed, I brought them with me to the museum so they could see it, and they were saying how they remembered this or that installation so vividly. My daughter has even worked here in the summer as a floor educator, because she’s an aspiring music teacher.”
“When the museum reopened, all full-time staff had to work on the floor, so during my first year here I actually got to work as a floor educator one day a week, whether that’s by the climber, or cleaning up bubbles.”
The soon-to-be and current LICM presidents also emphasized the lessons they took away from running, funding, and continuing to grow the museum during the COVID pandemic.
LeBlanc described the “pivotal moment” when staff had to decide, about five months into COVID, whether or not to re-open the museum right away. “We decided to reopen with many protocols in place: mask wearing, social distancing, and only letting in [25% of LICM capacity] for visitors. And between that, and applying for every applicable grant we could, allowed us to keep on our full-time staff, which is our intellectual capital.”
LeBlanc added, “It was important to try to stay very current, and to always communicate with staff.”
Floreska echoed the importance of communication, and recalled how she first met the museum’s staff via Zoom, and could tell they already had a strong group dynamic in place, in a great way.
“I could already sense the community, and the commitment.”
That collaborative spirit, along with her background in the arts, ended up being crucial to keeping the museum’s funding on track during COVID.
“We had a benefit that had to go virtual. Nobody had ever done this before, and I happened to draw on my background in theatre more than I ever thought I would because we had to ‘put on a show.’ We ended up interviewing a lot of people from our constituent programs, so I also got hear teachers, students, and families talk about their experiences.”
At it happens, LeBlanc’s plans following her retirement from LICM’s presidency also include leveraging prior experience in the arts, along with some high quality ‘kid time.’
“I love to travel, and my daughter and granddaughter live in Wales, so I’m going to visit them this summer and do some other traveling, and by not working quite as hard I’ll be able to spend more time with them,” LeBlanc explained when asked what she’s looking forward to come June.
“In the fall I’m starting work consulting, but I’ll spend less time working than I have been in order to do more things I had put on hold. I want to get back into photography; I was a photography major in college.”
When she’s back home in Long Beach, she added, “I can go to the boardwalk and the beach, too.”