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Written by Mike Spock
When the What's Inside? exhibit (1964), the MATCh Kits curriculum units (1964-68), and the Validated Exhibit Project (1966-69) began to make small splashes on both the Boston and national scenes, it occurred to us that we still hadn't really exploited all the working and learning spaces we could use in the Jamaica Plain museum that had potential for housing visitors, teachers, collections, and staff while we built momentum for a move downtown. Our old, formal buildings certainly lacked some of the specialized spaces that would support new interactive learning experiences.
A committee of board and staff began to work on a holding plan to maximize leftover spaces cheaply and creatively while we got well enough known to even think about taking the plunge into a capital campaign with the big guys. Thus, the Facilities Committee Report recommended "...a $500,000 two-and-half year Development Program to adapt the museum's existing plan to meet the demands of the next five to ten years."
The pivotal idea was to convert the splendid but under-used 500-seat auditorium into a flexible space where we could accommodate public exhibits and programs and visitor support services (entry, shop, johns) in one unconventional package. We would call it the Visitor Center, a place for somebody, not a place about something, thereby ducking responsibility of having to explain that it would not be a conventional hands-off museum experience. This plan freed up the old case-bound museum building (an elegant turn-of-the-century mansion) as a Materials Resource Center serving teachers, parents, community workers, and the offices, work and meeting spaces for the burgeoning staff, and our collections.