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The ‘Governor’ of Waltham

Posted by Devin Cole  March 6, 2012 03:35 PM

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Elln Hagney has worked with many notable organizations in the course of her 20 year career but none has so clearly allowed her to demonstrate her gifts and talents as the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation (CRMII) in Waltham. Through her many creative outreach efforts and diverse community collaborations, she has positioned the museum at the center of the community, by acting as a governor herself. "A centrifugal governor is a specific type of governor that controls the speed of an engine by regulating the amount of fuel admitted, so as to maintain a near constant speed whatever the load or fuel supply conditions." One could very well say the balancing act she has managed to perform since she joined the museum in 2008 has prepared the institution to move full speed ahead into the future.

steampunk.jpg's a phenomenon

Photo by Todd Douglas Cahill

Community Partner

One of the oldest and largest community events is Open Studios, which is run by the Waltham Mills Artists Association. It has enjoyed a vibrant 35 year history, drawing an estimated 5,000 visitors over the course of the weekend. The Museum is located in one of the mill buildings that houses artist studios, and it has become an important community partner to the event. Since all 80 artists who participate in the event open their studios at no charge to visitors, last year the museum offered free admission all weekend long to draw crowds into its exhibitions.This year, the museum will be increasing its role by providing space for artists to exhibit their work.

Business to Business

The Waltham Food & Wine Festival has been running for 20 years. The museum used to host the festival but the event has outgrown its capacity of 180 guests and in more recent years, the CRMII has turned to the Waltham Westin Hotel to play host to its over 600 attendees. The event is designed as a fundraiser for the museum but the festival itself celebrates Waltham’s culinary businesses by offering samples of fare prepared by some of the city’s most popular restaurants.

Back to its Roots

The last and perhaps most important civic group that calls the museum home, is the New England Model Engineering Society. This ‘group for those who enjoy metal working and machining’ has been meeting monthly at the museum for over 15 years. It recently held its annual show at the museum in February which used to draw crowds of 500 people to find out ‘What trains, flutes, and clocks all have in common?’ Under Ms. Hagney’s direction the model engineering show has more than doubled its attendance to attracting over 1200 visitors this year.

Going with the Flow

Although Ms. Hagney has found new ways to work within the community’s traditions, she has also started many new initiatives of her own. One example is her outreach to the citizens of Waltham with the Green Enterprize Training Institute (GETI). ‘Waltham Residents can learn how to save money and lower energy costs by signing up for free home energy audits through Mass Save.’ GETI is a collaborative effort between Ms. Hagney and the museum trustee, Phil Jutras. Now in its third year under Phil's guidance, the program has trained over 100 people and is working with the city of Waltham and the Waltham West Suburban Chamber of Commerce to develop training programs whereby local business owners can learn how to create and implement sustainability plans.

Linking past and present

A brand new festival that Ms. Hagney has put into production is the annual ‘Innovations of Yesteryear’. This hands-on family event features an eclectic, interactive assortment of innovations prior to 1970. In a similar vein is another new program called ‘Innovation Speaks’ that was spearheaded by Ms. Hagney, to draw notable speakers to the museum. In fact, many of the exhibits at the Charles River Museum are testimonials to the contributions of pioneers from a previous era who took action to improve life for themselves and their communities.

The next generation

Ms. Hagney has also positioned the museum at the center of its public education system in new ways. The museum’s school visit program connects the historical and engineering aspects of the Massachusetts Education Frameworks to a museum tour and innovation activities. Participating in their program helps prepare students for the Science and Technology/ Engineering MCAS exam. The Milestone School Internship program, which is a collaborative effort between the school and the Museum, works with high school students with severe learning disabilities. ‘Shh... Quiet’ day was designed by the students and Ms. Hagney to address the needs of museum goers with Autism and Aspergers. The Technical High School Learning Curriculum is the only program in the state offered by a museum to this underserved population. There are currently over 29 technical school programs in eastern Massachusetts equaling more than 10,000 students whose learning standards are not being addressed by cultural institutions such as the CRMII.

Global reach

The recent back to back exhibits, ‘Steampunk: Form and Function I & II’ have placed the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation on the map. These shows have been a collaborative effort between the museum and Bruce Rosenbaum of ModVic and Steampuffin. This international movement has found a home at the museum that now hosts a monthly Steampunk Meetup and an annual Festival that grew tenfold from 1,000 visitors in 2010 to 10,000 in 2011. With roots in Nantes, France, which is the birthplace of Jules Verne who is considered one of the fathers of Steampunk, and home to not only the Jules Verne Museum, but also to Royal de Luxe, a European factory and fabrication shop for monumental marionettes, Steampunk and the Museum are positioned for success with the marriage of art and technology, performance and design, innovation and creative capital. In fact, this past summer the museum received a grant from an anonymous donor to hire their first ever Artist in Residence, David Gordon. Mr. Gordon’s challenge is to develop new relationships with artistic and hacker communities for the museum. Thus far his efforts have resulted in conversations with the Boston Burners, Artisan Asylum in Somerville and The Figment Festival. These future collaborations could only add more vibrancy and draw to a community and a place led by such a vital person.

Donna Dodson graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2000, Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her wood sculptures. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker in conferences, panels and forums at museums and universities in North America.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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