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Progress Report

By Janine Fondon

On March 8 (International Women’s Day), the 2021 On the Move Forum to Advance Women, presented by Bay Path University, Springfield Museums, and a host of local organizations, virtually hosted some 200 women of all backgrounds from Western Mass. and beyond. Through conversations and speakers, women voiced their hopes and elevated their concerns to support the future success of women in leadership at all levels.

Speakers noted there is much work to be done to change the trajectory of women in companies and organizations, given that women still operate in a world where they are paid less than men. Also, women have limited leadership opportunities in the C-suite and have experienced workplace challenges in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Also, black women and Latinas still make less than anyone in the workforce, and their opportunities for promotions are certainly limited. Where do we go from here?

The forum theme, “Women in Leadership: This Is What Change Looks Like — Past, Present, and Future,” offered attendees an inter-generational, cross-cultural, gender-inclusive, and history-infused conversation focused on advancing women, led by moderator Nikai Fondon.

The event presented voices and content that showed what change could look like — young, diverse, professional women on the move to create a new world; experienced leaders of all backgrounds who share their expertise; and college-aged women exploring new skills. Now in its fifth year, the event has engaged more than 1,000 women in community conversations and presentations on women’s history, empowerment, and advancement.

“The numbers also show us that change needs to happen to build more inclusive workplaces at all levels and in all industries. We must keep watch that our colleges and universities understand the magnitude of not only recruitment and retention, but belonging and mentoring.”

This year’s event aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” According to Catalyst, “in 2020, women of color represented only 18% of entry-level positions, and few advanced to leadership positions. While white women held almost one-third (32.8%) of total management positions in the U.S. in 2020, Asian women (2.2%), black women (4.1%), and Hispanic women (4.5%) held a much smaller share.”

During the forum, the speakers and participants during the conversations voiced the sentiments expressed in these statistics. Most women still face obstacles in moving up the ladder at work. These statistics remind us that young women professionals who are rising to new opportunities in industry may have to pick up the path of experienced women today who still fight these trends after more than 20 years.

The numbers also show us that change needs to happen to build more inclusive workplaces at all levels and in all industries. We must keep watch that our colleges and universities understand the magnitude of not only recruitment and retention, but belonging and mentoring.

Also, as black women, Latinas, and women of color climb the ladder of success, they find that every step along the way may not come with the support they need or expect. A study conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey finds that, although more than 80% of white employees view themselves as allies to women of color at work, just 45% of black women and 55% of Latinas say they have strong allies in the workplace. There is more work to be done to build relationships that drive trust and transformation in the workplace, and more conversations need to confirm informal and formal sources of support.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

To help make a change in the workplace, educational institutions, companies, and organizations continue to underscore the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While these efforts allow for some change, we need strategic approaches to systemic racism and inequities that address issues for companies and individuals. Many young professionals, consumers, and communities are at the forefront of social justice, so shifts in social responsibility, outreach, and accountability could drive change on many levels.

Bay Path President Sandra Doran noted in her speech that she has been committed to the advancement of women and the power of education. “I embrace these beliefs because I come from a family of educators and strong women. I have witnessed first-hand the power of higher education for women. My grandmother attended Barnard, a women’s college, and my mother returned to school to earn her degree at a women’s college as an adult learner. With such personal role models, I felt called to be the president of Bay Path.”

However, noting the effects of COVID-19, she noted that, “by now, we all know the burden of the pandemic fell harder on women than on men. Women make up the majority of front-line workers in deeply affected industries like retail, food service, hospitality, and healthcare, and also picked up a disproportionate share of the additional loads of schoolwork, housework, and elderly care. Black women have faced the highest rate of unemployment among women at 8.9%, followed by Latinx women at 8.5%. This pandemic has uncovered the fragility of our systems, from healthcare to daycare to education, and it is our calling, women — and men of substance — to create change. And the pipeline of women in leadership positions has shrunk.”

“As we move past International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, there must be even more commitment to revisiting practices in workplaces, classrooms, boardrooms, meeting places, and Zoom rooms to deliver equity, belonging, and dismantling ‘isms.’”

Doran also referenced an IBM study that “noted how women on corporate boards and in C-suites around the world have made no progress since 2019, when IBM did its first study on the subject.”

Another report, the 2020 Women in the Workplace study, conducted in partnership with Lean In and McKinsey, tracked the progress of women in corporate America. The data set reflects contributions from 317 companies that participated in the study and more than 40,000 people. According to the report, “the boundaries between work and home have blurred, and women, in particular, have been negatively impacted.”

In the study, women of color were noted as particularly impacted by COVID. “Women — especially women of color — are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. Meanwhile, black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. This is an emergency for corporate America. Companies risk losing women in leadership — and future women leaders — and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”

 

Adverse Impact on Black Women and Latinas

While many black women and Latinas have made strides and found success in corporations and organizations, far too many remain underutilized, left behind, not included, and overlooked for opportunities. The numbers document their trajectory in a world where, in most cases, they are paid less than everyone else. Also, according to a report by CNBC, “employment for black women is 9.7% lower than it was in February 2020. Employment for white men, white women, and black men is down 5%, 5.4%, and 5.9%, respectively.”

A report by Lean In also confirms the experiences of black women in the workplace, noting that black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, much less likely to be promoted to manager (and their representation dwindles from there), more likely to see their successes discounted, and less likely to get the support and access they need to advance. In addition, black women face more day-to-day discrimination at work. They want to lead — and they are motivated to improve their workplaces — but often find themselves unfairly penalized for being ambitious.

These findings should cause us all to pause and revisit our workplace policies, practices, and procedures. While not every black woman may have these experiences, other personal scenarios that they face result in negative trends. Most of all, these findings should prompt us to think about how everyone is treated in the workplace and how we treat each other. Most of all, we should consider how we can understand what others feel and find ways to communicate. If we were all treating each other as ourselves, we would not have these trends.

 

LGBTQIA+ Equality

While many communities and individuals experience an uncertain landscape in the workplace, we must continue to stay vigilant about trends that impact inclusion. For LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, queer, intersex, agender, asexual, and other queer-identifying) communities, the journey to equality continues to “ebb and flow,” as Kathleen Martin of Springfield College and her wife, Andrea Hickson Martin of Bay Path University, noted:

“There is no doubt that there have been tremendous strides over the past decade for LGBTQIA+ equality. In 2012, the Obama administration supported marriage equality. In 2015, in the Supreme Court of the United States case Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality was made federal law, paving the way for our marriage in 2017. In 2019, Congress approved a comprehensive LGBTQIA+ civil-rights bill, providing non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQIA+ community in employment, housing, public spaces, education, jury service, credit, and federal funding. During the Trump administration, however, LGBTQIA+ rights were rolled back through a ban on transgender military service, the appointment of anti-LGBTQIA+ judges at various levels of the judicial system, the rolling back of the Obama-era Civil Rights Act protecting transgender and non-binary workers from employment discrimination, and the rescinding of Title IX rules requiring schools, including colleges and universities, to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence.

“As with everything in life, there is a constant ebb and flow,” Martin and Hickson continued. “On the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, President Biden signed an executive order preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, reinstating the LGBTQIA+ protections the Trump administration removed. More recently, the administration has directed the Department of Education to ‘review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden-Harris administration’s policy that students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence.’ This includes an evaluation of the Title IX burden of proof issued under the previous administration.”

As stated, the ebb and flow of policy continue to take us away from setting a more consistent, inclusive world and workplace where all people can succeed.

As we move past International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, there must be even more commitment to revisiting practices in workplaces, classrooms, boardrooms, meeting places, and Zoom rooms to deliver equity, belonging, and dismantling ‘isms.’ Also, we must begin to employ new ways for engaging, recognizing, and retaining black women, Latinas, and women of color who are still hidden in plain view.

 

Janine Fondon is a writer, speaker, assistant professor, and chair of Undergraduate Communications at Bay Path University. She is a frequent contributor to publications and media outlets on the topics of social justice, women’s history, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She recently curated and produced an exhibit and series of public events at Springfield Museums, called “Voices of Resilience: The Intersection of Women on the Move.” She was named a 2020 Difference Maker by BusinessWest, a 2020 Pynchon Award winner, and one of the top African-American female professors in 2018 by the African American Female Professors Assoc.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the annual Ubora Award and Ahadi Youth Award. These prestigious awards — conferred by the African Hall Subcommittee — are awarded to African-American people from Greater Springfield who have gone above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, and/or the arts.

The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. The Ubora and Ahadi awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in the fall.

True to the Swahili word that comprises its name, the Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. In 2020, the Ubora Award was given to Rep. Bud Williams.

Named for the Swahili word for promise, the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12. In 2020, the Ahadi Award was given to Kareem Wedderburn.

The African Hall Subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The group has administered this annual award since 1992. A full list of the awardees can be found on the Springfield Museums website.

Nomination forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Thanks to funding from MEFA and the U.Fund College Investing Plan, Springfield Museums are distributing 495 literacy activity kits to children throughout Springfield and beyond. Ten programs — including the Gray House, Home City Families, Raising a Reader, and Head Start — will benefit.

The literacy activity kits contain a consumable activity, a reusable building toy, colored pencils, a Dr. Seuss clipboard, and an early-reader book: Dr. Seuss’s ABC. Family Engagement Coordinator Jenny Powers, who worked together with her team to assemble the kits, noted that “we wanted to offer activities that help build reading and science literacy which a child could engage on their own. We are hopeful the kits will help provide caregivers with time to prepare other activities or take a short break.”

With new COVID-19 protocols in mind, Powers’ team provided an activity kit that a child can use on their own, in their own space. “Since each child has the same materials, they can talk about what they are doing with each other, without needing to share.”

Springfield Museums are committed to helping children and their caregivers explore literacy in its many forms — literary, science, historical, art — while also having fun.

“We come from a city that brought us Milton Bradley and Dr. Seuss, who both believed in the power of learning while playing,” said Larissa Murray, director of Education. “Entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, writers, thinkers throughout our history have explored myriad ways to become literate — able to communicate fluently in a variety of disciplines — and we are excited to help continue that exploration.”

The museums have tripled their hands-on learning spaces over the past few years. The Art Discovery Center, the Cat’s Corner, and Spark!Lab are all spaces for people to engage in hands-on learning to gain skills and build competency in a variety of subjects. Since the onset of the pandemic, the museums also worked to share activity kits so that those unable to visit in person could still have access to learning.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums announced the winners of the 29th Ubora and 11th Ahadi award winners: state Rep. Bud Williams and Kareem Wedderburn. The award ceremony will be held virtually on Saturday, Nov. 14 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The cost is $25 per household. To register, click here or call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325.

The awards are conferred each year by the African Hall subcommittee to African-American people from Greater Springfield who have demonstrated significant commitment to community service, education, science, humanities and/or the arts. The Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. The Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community.

First elected to Springfield City Council in 1993, Williams, the Ubora Award winner, is also a member of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

“His fight to keep banking services in our community has been a true blessing to the entire community. Mr. Williams works hard to make Springfield a safe and good community for all of us living in the city. He is an advocate with a heart of gold,” said nominator Mary Moore.

Williams was instrumental in stopping TD Bank from closing the Mason Square bank branch — a closure that would have negatively impacted poor and underserved residents, particularly senior patrons. “He is a champion for justice,” said nominator Mary Worthy.

Williams’s fight to address the injustices of subpar housing and support for displaced residents of Bergen Circle housing complex is another example of his work on behalf of the community. He assisted the elderly, provided transportation, and made certain that residents were treated with dignity as they sought out shelter and other services. “Bud works tirelessly on behalf of the entire Springfield community as he addresses issues that may negatively affect the health of the community. He is unafraid to speak out in the face of adversity for the betterment of the community at large,” said nominator Robert Cee Jackson.

Wedderburn was nominated by John Szymczyk, a counselor at Springfield Central High School. One of seven close-knit siblings raised by their mother, Wedderburn challenged himself throughout his high-school career with advanced-placement course work, leadership in school theater productions, and a pivotal Upward Bound (UB) program in social justice. Upward Bound’s mission is to enable first-generation and low-income students to succeed in high school and enroll in college. The program also has a significant social-justice element.

“UB’s social-justice program has allowed me to have productive dialogue on a variety of current issues, developed me as an activist, and in general made me more aware of the struggles that black people and other oppressed groups face,” he said.

Wedderburn became passionate about public transit when he started taking the PVTA to school every day. Since then he has studied, written about, and photographed transit as a hobby, and has also made it his career focus. Currently, he is a freshman at Westfield State University, majoring in regional planning.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums issued a community call for portraits that will result in the exhibit “This Is Us: Regional Portraiture Today” at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts from Oct. 24 through April 4, 2021.

In conjunction with the exhibition “The Outwin: American Portraiture Today” (on view at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts from Oct. 3 through April 4), the Springfield Museums invite submission of original portraits by artists of all ages residing in the Connecticut River Valley and Hartford County, Conn.

“Since its opening in 1933, the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts has proudly showcased artworks by our exceptional community,” said Heather Haskell, director of Art Museums and vice president of the Springfield Museums. “We are especially excited about ‘This is Us: Regional Portraiture Today’ and look forward to sharing the submissions and backstories with our visitors.”

Artists are invited to use their own art materials, or to pick up a 16-by-20-inch canvas, free of charge, at the Museums’ Welcome Center during regular open hours. The Museums request only one submission per artist of a portrait created within the last two years. The Museums are especially interested in works that complement the themes explored in “The Outwin: American Portraiture Today,” including identity, human connection, and responses to the current political and social environment.

“Of any artwork, portraiture is the most personal, and in this time of social distancing, the show will provide all of us with the opportunity to ‘meet’ our neighbors through vicarious interaction,” Haskell said.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Museums are set to reopen to visitors today, July 13, with the first two hours each Monday, 10 a.m. to noon, set aside for seniors (60 and older) only, and the general public from noon to 5 p.m. The museums are open to everyone Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We are overjoyed to welcome visitors back to the museums,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of Springfield Museums. “We have carefully prepared our museums for reopening with visitor and staff health and well-being as our priority. We want to provide an experience that is both reassuringly safe and wonderfully inspiring.”

The museums will open at 25% of their full capacity and will issue timed tickets to spread people out over the course of the day. “We urge our visitors to purchase their tickets online ahead of their visit,” said Sharon Ferrara, Welcome Center manager. Limited numbers will be allowed into the admissions area at a time, to help all keep socially distanced.

For additional well-being, the museums have added plexiglass shields and no-touch credit-card machines at the Welcome Center desk, Museum Store, and Blake House Café. They have also stepped up cleaning protocols, especially on high-touch surfaces. Most importantly, visitors are required to do their part in communal health and safety by wearing masks that cover their nose and mouth. Additionally, they are required to keep at social distance from people not in their party. Staff also are required to wear masks.

“Each of us plays a role in a safe reopening, with social distancing, face masks, and additional health and safety precautions in place,” Simpson said. “We are truly all in the same boat and pulling for each other.”

Educators in each of the museums’ facilitated spaces — the Cat’s Corner, the Smithsonian Spark!Lab, and the Art Discovery Center — are ready to greet visitors with new protocols as well. They have created single-use packets and set up activities that can be done at social distance, in addition to increased cleaning.

“Having families back at the museums, ready to celebrate this summer, will be such a great treat — and we are ready to make sure they have a great time,” said Larissa Murray, director of Education at the Springfield Museums.

For those comfortable with hands-on experiences, the museums have all interactive exhibits in place and have added more hand-sanitizing stations and more frequent cleaning by the staff. “We are encouraging visitors to sanitize their hands before and after they use an interactive,” Murray said.

For those who look forward to a low- or no-touch experience still informed by educators and curators, the museums have introduced a mobile guide available through visitors’ cell phones. “The guide includes virtual gallery tours and maps,” Murray said. “And it features interactive scavenger hunts that integrate learning with fun facts and beautiful images.”

The museums have also enhanced their cell-phone audio tours, adding more stations to the Science Museum, D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, and Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. The Seuss Museum audio tour is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

“For centuries, museums have offered a place of solace,” said Heather Haskell, vice president of the Springfield Museums and director of the Art Museums. “We are a place where people can be together with plenty of room for social distance while still enjoying an experience in community.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums hope to reopen to the public soon, in cooperation with Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phase plan. The museums could begin welcoming visitors inside in early July in alignment with phase 3. Currently, visitors are welcome on the museums’ outdoors grounds.

Looking forward to reopening, the museums have been purchasing CDC-recommended cleaning supplies in abundance; adding plexiglass shields and no-touch credit card machines at the Welcome Center desk, Museum Store, and Blake House Café; increasing the signage for safety protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent washing of hands; installing one-way traffic indicators for each museum and the Quadrangle green; and securing personal protective equipment for staff.

“The museums are working to ensure we offer a wonderful a museum experience, as our visitors have come to expect from our unique, multi-disciplinary museums,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums. “And we are putting into place protocols to help ensure visitor-experience is as safe as possible. Each of us plays a role in a safe reopening, with social distancing, face masks, and additional health and safety precautions in place.”

For those comfortable with hands-on experiences, the museums have all interactive exhibits in place and have added more hand-sanitizing stations and more frequent cleaning by the staff. Visitors will be encouraged to sanitize their hands before and after they use an interactive exhibit.

For those who look forward to a low- or no-touch experience still informed by educators and curators, the museums have introduced a mobile guide available through visitors’ smartphones. “The guide includes virtual gallery tours and maps,” said Larissa Murray, director of Education. “And it features interactive scavenger hunts that integrate learning with fun facts and beautiful images.”

The Museums have also enhanced smartphone audio tours, adding more stations to the Science Museum, D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, and Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. The Seuss Museum audio tour is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

“We really miss everyone,” Murray said. “Having families back at the museums, ready to celebrate this summer, will be such a great treat. And we are ready to make sure they have a great time.”

Educators in each of the museums’ facilitated spaces — the Cat’s Corner, the Smithsonian Spark!Lab, and the Art Discovery Center — have created single-use packets and set up activities that can be done at social distance.

“For centuries, museums have offered a place of solace,” said Heather Haskell, vice president of the Springfield Museums and director of its art museums. “We are a place where people can be together with plenty of room for social distance while still enjoying an experience in community.”

COVID-19

SPRINGFIELD — In response to the community health effort to slow and stem the spread of COVID-19, the Springfield Museums will be closed to the public March 14 through April 3. All public events, programs, classes, trips, and club meetings are canceled or postponed.

“The Museums’ leadership made this decision as a proactive and cautious response to help ensure the health and safety of our staff and volunteers, visitors, and community,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums.

During this time, all public gatherings at the Museums are cancelled or postponed. Refunds will be issued to visitors who have purchased tickets or registrations for events, programs, classes, or excursions. The Museums will continue to carefully monitor the situation and will share updates as they become available.

“While our doors are closed,” Simpson added, “activity in the Museums will continue as the staff prepares to reopen with new and exciting programming and exhibits for our visitors.”

Class of 2019 Difference Makers

Institution Has Mastered the Art and Science of Being Entrepreneurial

Kay Simpson, left, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums, with current board chair Kate Kane.

Kay Simpson, left, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums, with current board chair Kate Kane.

Kay Simpson says it wasn’t long after the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened to the public in 2002 when the Springfield Museums first considered creating a special license plate to commemorate Seuss — and his hometown of Springfield.

That effort didn’t really get very far, she told BusinessWest, adding that the process of getting the state to produce these specialty license plates — there are now almost 30 of them that help raise money for causes and institutions ranging from the Jimmy Fund to Blackstone Valley to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — was more involved then, and the thresholds to be met in terms of minimum numbers of subscribers were considerably higher. And 2002 was before the age of social media, when marketing such an effort was a much different proposition.

That was then.

With the opening in 2017 of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, which has drawn visitors from across the state and around the world, Simpson and others at the Springfield Museums believe that threshold can be far more easily reached.

“We have 130 people signed up, and we need 750 signed on before we can actually put the plates into production; we’re well on our way, and there is considerable interest,” she explained, adding that there will eventually be an auction at which individuals can bid on the low plate numbers bearing the Seuss imagery.

A Dr. Seuss specialty plate could yield perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Museums over the next several years, said Simpson, but that windfall only begins to explain what the plate might mean for the institution and the City of Homes.

“It’s like a billboard, not just for the Museums, but for Springfield,” she told BusinessWest, in reference to the plate, which will bear an image of the most famous of all the Seuss characters, the Cat in the Hat. “The image says ‘seussinspringfield.org,’ which is our website, which tells the story of the Dr. Seuss museum, but it also celebrates Ted Geisel growing up in Springfield and all the connections he had to the city through his boyhood.

“This is not only going to be promoting the Quadrangle, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, and the sculpture garden, but the city of Springfield as well,” she went on. “People living across the state can get one of these license plates, but people living in Massachusetts drive to all kinds of locations throughout the country, so this is a way of promoting the Museums and the city nationwide.”

“People living across the state can get one of these license plates, but people living in Massachusetts drive to all kinds of locations throughout the country, so this is a way of promoting the Museums and the city nationwide.”

So, in essence, a specialty license plate will only further amplify the already profound impact the Springfield Museums have had on the city and this region since the first collections, housed then in the Springfield Library, went on view back in 1857.

In the ensuing 162 years, the Museums have been a source of culture, history, and pride for generations of area residents, and they have also brought people from far outside this region into Springfield, effectively putting the city on the map.

And with many recent additions, especially the Dr. Seuss Museum, which doubled the institution’s visitation numbers in the first year it was open, the Museums’ overall impact has increased tremendously.

To the point where the decision makers at BusinessWest are making the Museums part of the Difference Makers class of 2019, thus taking the recognition program to a different dimension.

The Quadrangle has certainly changed over the years.

The Quadrangle has certainly changed over the years. Above, the scene in the early ’70s when one could actually drive onto the property. Below, today the scene is dominated by trees and the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden.

Indeed, over the past decade, the program has recognized individuals, families, a host of nonprofits (from Girls Inc. to Big Brothers Big Sisters), some of the region’s institutions of higher learning (UMass Amherst and the area’s community colleges, to be specific), and even a corporation — MassMutual.

But a cultural institution? The Museums would be the first. But they have collectively been a Difference Maker from the very beginning. Lyman Wood, retired business owner, philanthropist, mentor to many young professionals, and long-time supporter of the Museums — he and late wife, Merrie, have their names on the Museum of Springfield History — put things in their proper perspective:

“The Museums put us on the map,” he said, adding that the Seuss museum has made the city and the region only more visible in that respect. “But it’s more than that. The Museums touch every aspect of people’s lives, from the arts to the science to the culture; it’s a focus point for everyone.”

Moving forward, as it strives to go on being this focus point, the Museums will continue a pattern of thinking and operating that Kate Kane, chair of the Museums’ board of directors, described simply as “being entrepreneurial.”

Examples of this entrepreneurial mindset abound, from the license-plate initiative to the recent purchase of property adjacent to the history museum on Chestnut Street with the goal of transforming it into another potential attraction and revenue stream; from new exhibits like the current offerings ToyTopia (an interactive look at the history of toys) in the history museum and Dinosaur Discoveries in the Science Museum, to new, lower-priced, often-Seuss-themed items in the museum store that have triggered huge increases.

At a time when many museums are struggling to lure visitors and make ends meet, the Springfield Museums are enjoying considerable momentum and looking toward an even brighter future.

In short, an institution that has always been a Difference Maker is poised to become even more of one in the years and decades to come.

Making History

As she talked about the Museums, their history, and their evolution over the years, Simpson said that, while the individual museums are architectural masterpieces and many of the items on display within them have been under the same glass — figuratively and in some cases literally — for 50 or 100 years or more, they are far from static.

“The Museums touch every aspect of people’s lives, from the arts to the science to the culture; it’s a focus point for everyone.”

Indeed, they must change with the times in order to stand the test of time, she said, pointing out, as just one example, the Art of Discovery Center on the second floor of the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, a 21st-century addition, if you will, to a late 19th-century facility, and that new Dinosaur Discoveries exhibit in the Science Museum.

The center provides drop-in activities during hours when the museum is open. Decorated with colorful and intricately painted floor-to-wall murals, the center’s hands-on activities provide insights into the culturally diverse collections on display in the museum’s galleries.

There are many other examples of how the old and the new — the past, the present, and sometimes the future — rush together in an almost seamless fashion at the museums, said Simpson, adding that this quality is one of many that make the collection of museums, which offer free admission to city residents, a historic landmark, a center for culture, and one of the leading tourist attractions in the region.

Lyman Wood, seen in the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History

Lyman Wood, seen in the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, says the Museums have helped put Springfield on the map and bring more vibrancy to its downtown.

Evolution and building on past successes have been the blueprint for the Museums since the first items were put on display in the middle of the 19th century.

Indeed, the Springfield Museums trace their origins to 1857, when the Springfield and the Young Men’s Library Assoc. were joined to form the City Library Assoc. The earliest museum collections were housed in a room in City Hall.

In 1871, the museum collections were moved into a new library building, said Simpson, adding that, in 1888, George Walter Vincent Smith and his wife, Belle Townsley Smith, offered their collection to the association — a philanthropic act and one that would set the tone for many to come — that led to the construction of Springfield’s first museum.

The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, an Italian palazzo-style building, opened its doors in 1896. The next addition to what would become a cluster of museums, or the Quadrangle, as it came to be called, was the Springfield Science Museum, which was founded in 1859 in City Hall and then moved in 1899 into a classical revival building that was expanded in 1932 and again in 1970, with the Tolman addition that included a public observatory.

Subsequent additions to the Quadrangle included the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum (1927), the Michelle and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts (1933), the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden (2002), the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History (2009), and the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, created in the original history museum, which opened in 2017.

And opened to considerable fanfare, said Simpson, adding that there was considerable, pent-up demand for a Seuss facility — visitors to the sculpture garden would habitually ask where the museum dedicated to the children’s book author was located and were disappointed when told there wasn’t one — and this was reflected in both the number of visitors and the long distances they traveled to walk under the arch at the front of the building.

Simpson told BusinessWest that, while the numbers speak loudly about the impact of the Seuss museum — attendance rose 110% in 2017 — it’s sometimes difficult to put into words exactly what that facility means for the Museums. But she tried, as did Wood.

“The opening of the Dr. Seuss Museum elevated the Museums in so many ways,” she explained. “It of course increased our attendance and, as a result, our revenue from ticketed admissions, which was very positive. But it also changed the character of our visitation; it really made us national and international, and while that might sound like an exaggeration, it really isn’t.

Above, the interior of the Science Museum in the mid-’30s. The facilities at the Quadrangle have all evolved with changing times and advancing technology. Below, Kay Simpson at the Dinosaur Discoveries special exhibit now at the Science Museum.

“We have the visitor-comment books that demonstrate that people travel here from Indiana and California and London because they wanted to see the Dr. Seuss Museum,” she went on, adding that, when they come — and those comment books indicate they’re also making repeat visits — they generally visit the other museums on the Quadrangle and often get out to see other parts of the city as well.

Wood agreed, and said that, collectively, the Museums, bolstered by the Dr. Seuss facility, will play a huge role in what he sees as the city’s best bet from a business and economic-development standpoint moving forward: tourism.

“To me, the future of Springfield, and I’ve been arguing this for 25 years, is going to be tourism,” he told BusinessWest. “We tried to get Fidelity out here, we’ve tried to be a tech center, we’ve made some good progress with communications, but if we’re really going to be on the map and have the vibrancy we all want, it’s going to come from tourism.”

And the Museums, along with MGM Springfield, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and other large attractions, will play a huge role in these efforts.

Entrepreneurship on Display

Overall, the Seuss Museum brings not only those aforementioned revenues — from not only admissions, but also the sale of items in the gift shop and, hopefully, those license plates — but also momentum and opportunity to expand and enhance its mission and do more to continue the evolutionary process of the individual museums.

In short, said Simpson, the Museums will continue to echo the entrepreneurial spirit so readily on display in the history museum, with its displays of Smith & Wesson guns, Indian motocycles, some of the first automobiles made in this country, several of Milton Bradley’s toys and games, and other products made in the city.

“The opening of the Dr. Seuss Museum elevated the Museums in so many ways. It of course increased our attendance and, as a result, our revenue from ticketed admissions, which was very positive. But it also changed the character of our visitation; it really made us national and international, and while that might sound like an exaggeration, it really isn’t.”

Plans to renovate and modernize the Science Museum are one example of being entrepreneurial and seizing opportunities, she said, adding that some of the halls are being improved in preparation for the opening of a Smithsonian SPARK Lab, a maker’s space that will bring more hands-on activities to the facility.

That lab is similar in nature to both the Art of Discovery Center in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum and the so-called Cat’s Corner (named after the Cat in the Hat) in the Seuss Museum, a space on the second floor where children and families can take part in a host of facilitated art and literacy activities. Such facilities help prompt return visits, said Simpson, by providing new experiences each time one comes.

“With the SPARK Lab, you have this wonderful space with a changing curriculum where kids can go and engage in these open-ended activities that tie to STEM,” she explained. “And it is the Smithsonian, so it has that wonderful brand.”

The building on Chestnut Street that was acquired recently is still another example of the Museums being entrepreneurial, said Simpson. The space, currently occupied by a liquor store and a convenience store, could be put to a number of uses that could advance the institution’s mission and bring more people to the Quadrangle.

Possibilities include another maker’s space or perhaps a small bakery, much like the one operated by Ted Geisel’s maternal grandparents more than a century ago.

Overall, the broad goal for the Museums moving forward is to maintain their relevance, something many institutions, especially the living-history museums, are struggling to do in this day and age, she said, noting that, nationwide, attendance is down roughly 20% at museums across the board.

“When you talk about strategic planning, you can see it in terms of the evolution of the Quadrangle,” she said, referring to many of the recent changes, additions, and new, family-oriented exhibits. “You’re looking for those opportunities to make sure that what you’re offering is relevant to today’s audiences; you’re always building on the past.”

And building toward the future as well, said Kane, the board chair, who returned to that notion of being entrepreneurial.

“And what better place to follow that path than in Springfield?” she said, referencing the city’s long history of innovation and ‘firsts.’ “We can provide people with experiences that they can relate to and have value for them; it’s about making memories.”

Wood agreed. He said the Seuss Museum has brought attention to Springfield from across the state, across the country, and even from around the world, and it’s now incumbent on the institution to take full advantage of this development and build momentum moving forward.

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum doubled the Museums’ attendance

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum doubled the Museums’ attendance in the first year it was open, greatly increasing revenues and creating more opportunities for the institution.

“What happened with the attendance that first year was remarkable, and it put us on the map with Boston,” he said. “We’ve received much more attention from the governor and the lieutenant governor — they’ve been out here to the Museums many times — and that means more people in the city and far outside the city are more aware of us. We have to build on that.”

Simpson concurred, and as she talked about the future, she returned once more to the past.

“When the Museums first opened, there was a statement made by one of the early founders that this was the ‘people’s college,’” she recalled, noting that phrase reflected a time when few people went to college. “I think that’s a wonderful expression, but I like to think of us more as the ‘people’s museum’ — there’s something for everyone, and we provide really substantial educational experiences for people of all ages.”

And it is now in a much better position to do that for generations to come.

Drive Time

Simpson said a date will soon be set for the auction involving those low, much-sought-after numbers for the Seuss specialty license plates. A few opportunistic individuals will emerge as big winners in that competition.

But over the past 161 years or so, the residents of Springfield and the region as a whole have all been big winners because of the Museums and all they have brought to the region — from art, science, and history to thousands of visitors and greater vibrancy.

Springfield was already on the map before 1857, when the first of the Museums’ exhibits went on display, but this institution has kept it there and promoted more people to circle that spot.

The Dr. Seuss Museum has taken the Quadrangle to a new and exciting place and made it a national and international attraction. But the reality is that this special collection of museums has always been a Difference Maker.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]