Cleveland Museum of Natural History Receives Gift to Enhance Planetarium

Photo: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has received a $3 million gift from the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Foundation that will support renovations and technological upgrades to the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium. This gift to the Museum’s Transforming the World of Discovery campaign was made possible by the support of Nathan and Fannye Shafran’s children and their spouses: Joe and Marla Shafran, Joan Shafran and Robert Haimes, and Paula Krulak.

“The Shafran family has always valued the importance of picturing ourselves not just in the story of life on Earth, but also in the larger story of the Universe,” says Sonia Winner, the Museum’s President & CEO. “This generous gift will enable our planetarium and its programs to expand our visitors’ understanding of all the ways the forces of the Universe affect our everyday lives.”

Twenty years ago, a contribution from Nathan and Fannye Shafran was instrumental in founding the Shafran Planetarium. Since its opening, the planetarium has allowed Museum visitors to virtually explore the Universe virtually, enjoying immersive views of planets, constellations, and other wonders of astronomy.

“Nathan and Fannye were so proud of the extraordinary planetarium that they helped establish and of the education and wonderment it has provided to countless people for two decades,” Joe Shafran says. “My sisters and I are honored to help continue our parents' legacy.”

Among many other improvements, this gift will support a technology upgrade that will enable the planetarium to produce brighter, sharper images—resulting in a seamless full-dome display rendered in the highest resolution possible.

“When the planetarium was new, it was truly state-of-the-art,” says Dr. Gavin Svenson, the Museum’s Chief Science Officer. “Now it will once again be the gold standard for planetariums worldwide—a virtual spaceship with the ability to display any point in our galaxy with superb visual clarity and, just as important, to display current astronomical data with accuracy.”

The planetarium's enhanced capabilities will align with the integrative educational approach of the Museum's new Planetary and Biological Processes Wings, to be unveiled in 2024 as part of the Museum’s ongoing transformation and expansion.

“The upgraded planetarium will allow the Museum to help visitors grasp the connections between the science of astronomy and the biological processes here on Earth,” says Joan Shafran.

The Museum’s transformation project is pioneering a new model for how natural history museums explore the interconnectedness of humans, nature, and the physical world. As the Museum redesigns all its exhibits to help visitors see themselves in a broader context, the Shafran Foundation’s gift is particularly timely.

“When our family discussed with Dr. Svenson the potential philanthropic impact of our gift on the planetarium, he explained how increasing its capabilities would help the Museum amplify science literacy,” says Paula Krulak. “We feel that doing all we can to help people rely on science, both for answers and for understanding, is a crucial step in addressing many of the challenges facing our country and planet today.”

The Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium was recently updated in the fall of 2022, including a software upgrade to Digistar 7, a repainted interior, and new seating that allows for more customized and creative configurations. Now open to the public, the planetarium features a new live program, Unfolding the Universe, highlighting NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This immersive journey through space and time allows guests to explore the earliest eras of the Universe, witness galaxies in the midst of titanic collisions, peer deep into majestic stellar nurseries and continue the search for life beyond our Solar System—all while viewing the telescope’s latest images in unprecedented detail. Unfolding the Universe is included in general admission. 

About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Transformation Project 

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History broke ground in June 2021 on a $150 million transformation project, which features an expansion, a complete reimagining of its campus and all its exhibits, and new public spaces. Pioneering a new model for natural history museums, this bold reinvention will place visitors at the center of the Museum experience—allowing them to understand better their connection with the natural world and the relevance of science to their daily lives. The transformed space will reflect the Museum’s world-class assets while serving as a trusted community resource that prioritizes accessibility and engagement. The Transforming the World of Discovery campaign has raised more than $122 million for this project, expanding the Museum's building and outdoor visitor areas to more than 375,000 square feet. The Museum appreciates the generous support from community members, corporations, foundations, and government grants that have helped to make this transformation a reality. 

About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History illuminates the world and inspires visitors to engage with the natural forces that shape their lives. Since its founding in 1920, the Museum has pioneered scientific research to advance knowledge across diverse fields of study and used its outstanding collections, which encompass more than 5 million artifacts and specimens, to deepen the public’s understanding of the dynamic connections between humans and nature. Through its Natural Areas Program, the Museum stewards nearly 12,000 acres of protected ecosystems across northern Ohio. A community gathering place, educational center, and research institution, the Museum is a vital resource that serves Cleveland and the nation. For more information, visit

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