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Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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What inspired the development of the Community Services Department?

Written by Dorothy Merrill

In the late '60s the Teacher Services Department was drawing a sizeable audience to the museum for workshops in interactive, hands-on teaching with activities that helped teachers understand and implement the latest in effective classroom techniques. Mike was eager to extend this service to an audience not yet fully using the museum: informal educators (afterschool and daycare teachers, club, camp and community center leaders). He had engaged Jim Zien, then a graduate student at the Harvard School of Education, to go out and talk to folks in community centers, to design a program that would meet their needs and then to write proposals to fund it. Jim began in the summer of 1970 with the Earthmobile, a traveling program in a converted laundry van. Under the umbrella of Summerthing, a summer program created by Boston Mayor Kevin White's Cultural Affairs office, Earthmobile brought Jim and his new staff to Boston neighborhoods to do art, music, crafts and science activities with children, making new contacts among their program leaders in the process. The team created a climate for learning and a collection of activity recipes that the museum has used for decades.

Activities carried out via Earthmobile coalesced into Jim's proposals to the Mass. Council on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Department of Education (DOE). Through an NEA program entitled Wider Availability of Museums, the museum received a grant of about $25,000. Using it to create the Community Services (CS) Department, the museum stepped up its effort to connect with a very broad community.

Next: What did community organizations want from the museum?