Story 06: The Big Move

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...Then What Happened?

Written by Mike Spock

Everyone was exhausted! All the pent-up, neglected issues that were put aside so as not to interfere with the round-the-clock work of getting ready for the opening were finally let loose. Pride turned into a sour postpartum depression. While we were learning how to run our spanking new museum we had to turn our emotional attention to long-neglected staff needs. Rather than yet another distraction, it seemed like just exactly the thing to do! Elaine Heumann Gurian, in a wonderful chapter in her book Institutional Trauma talks in detail about the reality of a big of move like ours.

Although MOT was not expecting to match the crowds that The Children's Museum attracted, they had budgeted enough income that they hoped would allow them to break even. But soon, not only were they not making their numbers, they were having trouble with cash flow and began to miss payments on their share of the monthly Museum Wharf bond and utility payments and the shared payroll—including the federal withholding taxes.

In the financial agreements for Museum Wharf, Inc., TCM and MOT were "tenants-in-common," which meant that if the Museum of Transportation was in trouble, The Children's Museum would be in trouble. We would have to double down and make good on the joint bills on each other's organizations. We had a line of credit for our operation budget designed to smooth out cash flow, but, at the Museum Wharf burn rate, the line would only last a few months. And our partners had stopped answering our questions about how they were doing. Duncan Smith recalls:

The Children's Museum did better, behaved more responsibly, and had a more sensible program. The Wharf project was bigger than MOT's resources. For our museum partner, the project was a great success and opened a whole new set of windows to be part of the whole community and to grow. For MOT, it did not work out that way. We went back to carriage house in Brookline and carried on our original activities without delusions about larger philosophical issues of urban growth and technology. MOT was probably too new and too small and not developed enough as an institution to pull off a project of this scale. It was exciting. A lot of people worked hard. And I'm sorry to say a lot of people were hurt by the crash. To them I would say, 'I'm sorry I did it to you.' And to the world I would say, 'Well, it was worth trying...'

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