Dr. Tom Wilson Retires from Arizona Museum of Natural History

Posted By on June 1, 2020
Dr. Tom Wilson

Arizona Museum of Natural History Director Dr. Tom Wilson retired on May 29 after 17 years of leading the organization.

During Dr. Wilson’s tenure, the museum underwent a significant evolution resulting in enhanced exhibits, visiting scholars, a renaming that shifted the focus from southwestern history and culture to natural history and the addition of a now iconic dinosaur sculpture to the building façade.

Dr. Wilson was responsible for refocusing the mission of the museum in 2007 to natural history and renaming the institution. The museum houses substantial collections of critical importance to the Southwest, and active paleontological and archaeological research is ongoing. Dr. Wilson was instrumental in attracting key donors and built an expert team of staff to generate unique gallery exhibits and vibrant education programs. 

In 2013, Mesa Grande Cultural Park was opened, preserving and opening to the public the archaeological site of a Hohokam settlement. This project took years of planning, and came to fruition under Wilson’s stewardship, and his leadership of a fundraising campaign to build a visitor center and a path enabling visitors to view archeological excavations.

One of Dr. Wilson’s favorite achievements was the creation and installation of a 45-foot-long dinosaur sculpture, depicting Acrocanthosaurus, a southwestern meat eater, bursting through the facade of the building. This unique sculpture has become an iconic image for downtown Mesa.

In addition to his role at the museum, Dr. Wilson served as Chair of the Governor’s Archaeology Advisory Commission, President of Arizona Citizens for the Arts, and as a board member of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. He previously served as Chair of Arizona Humanities, President of the Museum Association of Arizona, Vice Chair of the Mesa Historical Museum and President of the Council for Museum Anthropology.

“Tom has done an amazing job as director, leading the efforts to refocus the museum and rename it. His professionalism and passion, and his many accomplishments, have earned him and the museum enormous respect from his colleagues not only here, but nationally and globally,”  Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said.

“Thanks to Tom’s efforts, the Arizona Museum of Natural History is truly a destination for thousands of families. From his leadership to create the Mesa Grande Cultural Park to attracting major collections and first class exhibits to the infamous dinosaur façade, he has left a tremendous impact on one of Mesa’s true gems,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said.

Alison Stoltman, Curator of Education, will serve as Acting Director until a search for a new director is completed. Alison, a paleoanthropologist, has worked at the Arizona Museum of Natural History for 10 years and has held prior positions in both the archaeological and paleontological fields.


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