After 25 years as a teacher, Cynthia Kanai has embarked on a new challenge: CEO of Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, a property right next door to her previous workspace at Palm Beach Day Academy. In this new role, Kanai is focusing on connecting with the Gardens’ visitors—more than 5,000 so far this season, 40 percent coming from outside of Florida—and keeping members excited about returning and continuing to bring in students who use the Gardens as a classroom of science, health and art.
You had visited the Gardens previously with students—what’s special about them to you now?
Now that I’m living it every day, I have a new wonder for what an incredible urban oasis it is. It’s just two acres on the Intracoastal that really has been preserved and protected from all the building that is around us. That was really Ann Norton’s legacy, that it be protected and that it be a space for the community to enjoy. I love to get up from my desk and take a walk through the Gardens and see plants changing and growing. We have an incredible collection of palm trees and cycads. I grew up on an Oklahoma farm, and I’ve always been connected to the earth and the plants, so in some ways this is like going back to my roots in my enjoyment of that.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far in this new role?
Thinking about all we want to do for the future. To think strategically about how we can expand our programming and membership—be something like a rainbow of experiences that will connect with lots of different people. We want our community that has never visited the Gardens to be excited about coming and experiencing this; getting the word out to people who maybe have driven by before but have never been inside. Also, for the people who have supported us, to continue to have exciting, fresh exhibitions and interesting speaker series, and wonderful educational opportunities that appeal to a wide range of our members.
How much do you interact with museum members?
That is something I like to spend a good portion of my day on: if we have tour groups, I like to welcome them. If we have a family, I like to catch them on the back side of the garden to say hello. We have recently added a catered lunch in our courtyard, so we now have people coming in for lunch. I love people, so engaging with our visitors is a pretty high priority daily.