An Homage to Len Steinbach, Museum Innovator

Steve Jacobson

Chief Executive Officer

Steve, founder of JCA, has provided systems consulting and implementation services to a number of clients, including Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, and the National Constitution Center.
June 05, 2024

This blog is part of our quarterly series, Executive Insights. This series features data and tech trends for the nonprofit community, directly from JCA’s Founder and CEO, Steve Jacobson.

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My typical blog posts are focused on how we can help nonprofit organizations be more effective using updated technology, better processes, and more capable staff. But today, I want to talk about the human side of the work we do and the relationships we build.

I recently attended the Alliance of American Museums (AAM) conference in Baltimore, MD. I’ve been going to this annual conference for well over 20 years. There’s top-notch education for learning the business side of museums. There’s a large exhibit hall where you can see the latest products and services for the arts and attractions sector. But above all, AAM is a great place to network, not only to reconnect with old friends but to discover new people who share the same goals of advancing the work of cultural attractions.

But this time, it was more than that. I was also there to attend a celebration of life for Len Steinbach at Baltimore’s Peale Museum (thank you, Nancy Proctor!). Len was a true leader—a visionary—in applying technology to solve challenges that museums face. Len passed away suddenly a few months ago, at age 71, shocking those of us who knew him. You see, Len was so full of life, always taking friends out to out-of-the-way, eclectic restaurants or late-night music spots. His motto of “If not now, then when” is what drove Len to experience the world at breakneck speed.

Len’s ties to the museum world not only ran deep, but wide. Coming from outside the museum field, he was part of a new generation of museum IT leaders in the 1990s who embraced technology to transform the way that museums operated. Whether it was collections, membership, admissions or digital asset management, Len had the uncanny ability to sift through the noise and quickly understand key issues. He would ask probing, direct questions when things didn’t make sense, always with the goal of finding a solution.

I first met Len when, as IT Director at the Guggenheim Museum, he needed my help with their development, membership and admissions systems. I was immediately struck by how genuine and smart he was. It was no surprise that he was later promoted to be the Guggenheim’s first Chief Technology Officer. When Len left the Guggenheim for the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), he was excited to take on a new challenge, joining a new and dynamic museum director who had a great vision for CMA. Len was in his element, leveraging cutting-edge video technology to engage remote audiences—15 years before Zoom even existed.

What really drove Len was an obsession to share his passion for museums with others. His signature course, “The Business of Museums,” was a perennial favorite in the Johns Hopkins’ Graduate Museum Studies program. He taught courses on museum management in Hong Kong for two years. He consulted with the Grand Egyptian Museum, too. Not too shabby for a kid from New York City.

As it’s finally sunk in that Len has left us, I’ve realized how much of an impact Len has had on the museum community—and on me personally. I encourage you all to find ways to inspire others in the same way.