Story 07: Managing the Organization

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Both Thinkers and Doers

Written by Elaine Heumann Gurian

Part of The Children's Museum success was based on the notion that thinking and doing were linked. Unlike most museums where the thinkers and researchers considered themselves apart from and above the rest of the staff, there was no such hierarchy at the museum.

We believed the doers—craftspeople, finance folks, designers, etcetera—brought essential services to the table and should sit as equals. Further, we sometimes interchanged jobs so that designers took a turn at being educators and vice versa.

Every job description had a product associated with it. Our curator/educators were called "developers" and were expected to be multi-talented. Not only were they knowledgeable in their subject matter but comfortable and experienced in producing exhibitions, publications, and curriculum units, in addition to training other people. Job applicants for "developer" were difficult to locate. Our premise was that subject matter expertise, while vital, was not sufficient. Most developers came to us from teaching in middle schools and had been teachers as well as teacher trainers. Some came from informal education settings such as camps and afterschool programs. Many had advanced degrees in their chosen subject but had preferred to practice in a public rather than academic career.

We were all expected to pitch in. Grumpily or not, everyone in the Visitor Center helped run the museum during vacation week (although mandatory helping during the first vacation period at the Wharf led to a revolt). Many staff from other divisions volunteered to help us out as well. We had no security force and no housekeeping staff during the daytime. Those tasks were distributed amongst the rest of us. Our exhibition design and production team also fixed broken windows. We expected the Visitor Services staff to help clean and to provide surveillance, and we trained everyone in the whole museum to help during fire drills.

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