By BOB MICHAELS
CGOH Brotherhood Breakfast speaker program chairperson
The Schenectady Museum was founded in 1935, moved to its present Nott Terrace location in 1969, and was renamed the Museum of Innovation and Science, or miSci, in 2014. Dr. Gina Gould was appointed its president as of Jan. 1, 2018. On that date miSci was barely distinguishable among 35,000 U. S. museums.
At a recent Temple Gates of Heaven Brotherhood Breakfast-and-A-Speaker Program, Gould discussed her plans to bring miSci to prominence, “beginning with replacing its roof with a white one that would neither leak water in, nor excessively absorb and radiate heat out.” Being dry is necessary generally, and being cool is necessary for reducing atmospheric distortion in the museum’s Dudley Observatory and Suits-Bueche Planetarium. Gould was introduced by Jane and Neil Golub, miSci Board members and supporters.
Cool. The museum, according to Gould, is definitely cool. In 2015 miSci joined with the Dudley Observatory, owner of rare manuscripts such as original astronomy books by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. MiSci exhibits only a tiny fraction of its significant holdings, which include some 15,000 objects, two million photos, 1,500 films, and 400 audio recordings. Together, according to Gould, miSci’s contemporary holdings “document our nation’s industrial history from the mid-1800s. Indeed,” she said, “much of our Industrial Revolution originated in Schenectady, with the inventions of Thomas Edison and influence of the General Electric Company on industry in the U.S. and abroad.” Although miSci reputedly provides cool fun for children, it is less known as a scholars’ mecca, but it is one. In 2018, for example, some 450 researchers visited miSci to study various types of its holdings.
Not just cool. In addition to being cool, according to Gould, miSci is unique. It is one of only a small number of technical museums in the U.S. Its vast collections distinguish miSci from science centers, such as the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, which are learning centers but are not museums, because their programs are not supported by in-house collections of objects for study and exhibit. Museums, according to Gould, “are defined as buildings in which stuff is stored, studied, and exhibited.” A U. S. example of a technical museum closest in type to miSci is California’s Silicon Valley Museum of Science and Technology, whose technical subject area differs from miSci’s. That is, miSci is not just cool; it is unique.
Programs. Gould described programs such as miSci’s Challenger Learning Center, one of a network affiliated with the National Challenger Learning Center in Washington, DC. This was established by families of the Challenger astronauts, who launched and died in the space shuttle Challenger 30 years ago. For children, the museum also hosts visiting school groups, birthday parties, and extended school break programs including summer programs.
The future. Dr. Gould described physical and programmatic plans. They include reconfiguring and adding indoor exhibit space, and creating an outdoor boardwalk that will exhibit natural history by descending from the woods canopy down to the Vale Park forest floor. Programmatic innovations will include committing to rotating exhibits at four-month intervals. Upcoming exhibit themes will begin with the History of Broadcasting, featuring developments from radio and television to mobile phones and the Internet.
Another theme will be the Art and Science of Cooking, for example documenting the origin of iron stoves in Troy. It also will feature diverse kitchen devices such as a toaster built in the shape of the Empire State Building, to be exhibited as art. Other themes will include Communications, Measuring Up (on measurement), and Imaging. Imaging will include local contributions such as to photography and, more recently, to CAT scan and MRI technologies.
Raising money. The museum is funded by multiple sources including admission fees, memberships, donations from annual galas, and grants. The last include New York State grants of $250,000 for the roof, $450,000 for the Vale Park Project, and $250,000 for lobby renovation. Lobby renovation will increase exhibit space and, for example, enable miSci to enhance its art exhibitions. A further endeavor, explained Gould, “involves leveraging miSci exhibits by renting them to other institutions.”
Gould’s ultimate goal for miSci is to realize its potential as a world-class museum, and thereby to contribute to the potential of our city and our region and to be a travel destination from all over the nation and world.