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Story 04: Where Did the Ideas Come From?

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The Broker’s Challenge(s)

Written by Janet Kamien

The hardest projects in my brokering portfolio were Playspace and any project involving both developer Bernie Zubrowski and designer John Spalvins.

Playspace, a toddler exhibit area conceived by Jeri Robinson, was the result of years of Jeri's attempts to get the rest of us to take this age group seriously. While most of us were busy being the site of “the Boston third grade field trip” and planning exhibits and programs accordingly, Jeri was trying to get us to notice that a surprising number of our actual audience was under seven years of age. Playspace remains the concrete symbol of Jeri's eventual success at this campaign.

I love and admire Jeri, then and now. But I can say without hesitation that she was the most difficult developer I ever worked with. I think this was because though she can speak German, play clarinet, teach, write, mentor, and remain one of the foremost experts on young children in museums in the nation or possibly the world, she didn't have the visualization skills to translate design drawings into a model she could judge. Inevitably, somewhere between our listening carefully to try and understand what she wanted and the paper renditions of what we thought we had heard, everything went south. The designer, Andy Merriell, and I did everything we could think of to make the drawings real for her, from marking floors and walls in real dimensions to holding up pieces of cardboard. Jeri would nod and smile. Carpenters would build. Jeri would tell us that it wasn't at all what she needed or wanted and not only that, but the colors were bad. And then she would be angry at us! We finally more or less succeeded in this project by trial (many) and error (many more.) Fortunately, iteration was also a part of how we allowed ourselves and others to learn. By the fifth or sixth iteration—over years—Jeri more or less got the space she wanted.

Next: John and Bernie