Story 04: Where Did the Ideas Come From?Story | Print | eMail | Related Media | Archives
Written by Janet Kamien
Before our gear-up to move to the Wharf, exhibits were created usually by a single developer, sometimes with an assistant, and a designer who had access to other design and production resources for each exhibit effort. Exhibit projects ran through our Design and Production (D&P) department on a schedule and were overseen for content and pizzazz by Elaine, director of the Visitor Center, and for schedule and budget by Janet, administrator for D&P.
Being a "developer" was simultaneously vague and minutely defined. A developer could and was asked to create almost anything: a school group program, a loan kit, an exhibit, a course for kids or adults or both, a book, an advisory board, a community alliance, a funding proposal, a curriculum, a methodology, a summer camp, an event, or a new program initiative. They were also expected to do direct service, teaching adult courses, school groups, college age interpreters, in-school classes, and work events. Some also had a collections area to attend to, making curatorial decisions and providing expertise in that subject's content. Even if there was no attendant collection, they were expected to have some kind of content area expertise. At various times developers were also expected to team up with other staff to provide their skills to another person's project.
Obviously, few people came to the table with all the experience necessary to perform this dizzying array of tasks. I think it's safe to say that as individuals, none of us ever mastered all of them, but that together, we mentored each other, helped each other and muddled through. So, the "difficult topic" quality of the death exhibit was not the only reason I was paired with Kaki.
It was also that I had developed some exhibit chops. And Aylette Jenness and Susan Porter became part of the What If... loan kit team to bring professional writing and curriculum development skills to the project that I certainly did not possess. These kinds of pairings worked, I think, because we not only mostly liked each other, but because the ethos of the place supported the idea that we were all learners, and that whatever skills we had should be shared. And that whatever skills we lacked could—and should—be developed. There was no shame in it, only opportunity.
Funding all these people was where the "minutely defined" emerged. All developers had a "home base" in the Resource Center, the Visitor Center or in, for a time, Community Services. There was some operating budget money in each division, but not nearly enough to deal with all the salaries. Soft money from various funding sources met part of the shortfall. Division managers met to trade percentages of time across departments to try and create viable jobs for people and place the best skills with the appropriate work. So Marion, a natural history teacher in the Visitor Center, might have 30 percent (a day and a half) to look after her exhibit and train interpreters, and 40 percent for nine months in the Resource Center to teach a Title 1 class in a Boston school and 10 percent in collections to cull the natural history materials under a grant. That being only 80 percent of her time, she'd work—and get paid—for a four-day week that year. When someone with all their time in the operating budget got put on some soft money, that operating budget money was put back into the "bank" to support some other developer's time. It was a maddening, often confusing and sometimes heartbreaking yearly process.
But it also meant that developers got opportunities to take risks, gain new skills and grow the skills they came in with.