Story 04: Where Did the Ideas Come From?

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The Education of an Exhibit Designer

Written by Janet Kamien

I had come to the museum very serendipitously. I had recently finished an undergraduate degree in theater as an acting major at Boston University's (BU) School of the Arts. A fine area of study in college, but I found that the last thing on earth I wanted to do upon graduating was to follow my friends to fourth—floor walk—ups on New York's Lower East Side and spend my days endlessly auditioning. Besides that, I was stone cold broke. Instead, I took a job at the Fernald School, a state institution for people with developmental delays. It was not a school at all, but a vast residential facility. I learned an enormous amount from this experience but it was often more depressing than the by—passed New York fourth floor walk—up. In fact the whole state system was challenged and dismantled a few years later.

In the spring of 1972, as an antidote to my draining Fernald experience, I took a three—month interpreter job (for $25 a week—not enough to live on even then!) at The Children's Museum while I planned the rest of my life: first I would do summer stock in Minnesota and then in the fall take a costume shop job at Trinity Square Theater in Providence Rhode Island and then begin to audition for acting roles.

But by the summer of 1972, they needed a manager at the museum and they already knew me. Not only was I completing the three—month internship, but I had previously come to "see kids" there on the instruction of a teacher at BU and later, as a stage manager, I had made repeated visits to try to get a kids' show mounted at the museum. So, when I finished the internship, they asked me to stay. I said no, I had plans. Also, I had no earthly idea about how to be an administrator in a museum, or even why I would want to. Elaine, however, could be very persuasive: "Don't worry, we'll teach you." As it turned out, that was our answer to everything.

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