Several years ago at a monthly breakfast hosted by a local architectural firm I was introduced to a great idea. It did not come from the dynamic speaker and there were several that year, following various arts and cultural expansion projects underway. I met Laura, the director of Joyce Preschool/Escolar; she was there with a board member who was an architect.
Chatting with Laura was easy. With Joyce Preschool just three blocks from my home we made an immediate connection. The next week, Laura e-mailed to invite me to visit the school. They were rethinking the classroom space in their church basement location and were interested in another perspective on early learning environments. The following fall when classes started, Laura asked me to come and read a story to the morning class. Before I started to read Babar’s Museum of Art Laura introduced me as a neighbor and a friend of Joyce Preschool/Escolar. Each fall and winter I returned to read a new story. Last January the school started strategic planning and asked me to serve as a non-board member on the committee along with two early childhood resource people. This past June, Laura announced that her family had an opportunity to live in Chile for a year, so she would be leaving her position. I told her I was both excited for her and sorry to see her go, but had appreciated the opportunity to get to know Joyce Precshool and her.
Laura told me then that as director, she had worked to surround Joyce with wonderful friends. When she met someone and found a connection, she followed up, built on it, strengthened it, and made it easy for a friendship to grow between that person and Joyce. Laura’s going-away party was well attended by parents, children, and teachers. I was there with many friends Laura had made for the preschool: elders from the church who volunteered; other neighbors; the State Senator, the director of local foundation, and more.
Making wonderful friends works for museums too. A museum’s strength relies on broad public awareness, on good will, on robust relationships with stakeholders, and on strong and varied community connections. Yet, museums often find it challenging to recruit committed board members, tap advisors with needed expertise and new perspectives, grow supporters, and cultivate champions.
The brilliance of Laura’s idea is that it is both simple and strategic. Yes, it requires work. Mostly it requires paying attention, understanding the museum’s long-term interests, shepherding relationships, and recognizing the interrelated interests of people across the community.
Wonderful friends for the museum go beyond the friends-and-family group–people we know already and ask to contribute to the annual fund or help at an event; and go beyond people with names on rosters and letterheads. They are the people we meet everyday. A wonderful friend–and every museum should be surrounded by many–is a writer for the neighborhood newsletter, an energetic entrepreneur, a passionate youth leader, a chatty barista, a dedicated gardener, a retired teacher, a local economist, a savvy realtor, an avid birdwatcher, or a newcomer looking to put down roots.
Thank you, Laura, y buena suerte!