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MIT Museum to Relocate After Planned Renovation

By Irene Lee

With an unassuming exterior marked by dusty window displays and a lone red banner, it is no wonder that the MIT Museum is not drawing an ideal audience. This is something the museum hopes to change by a series of renovations topped off with a complete relocation to The Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, located on the corner of Vassar St. and Massachusetts Ave., within the next five years.

Beryl Rosenthal, director of exhibitions and public programs, believes that the overhaul in the museum’s image is necessary in order to establish a larger presence in the community.

“We are looking at becoming a much bigger voice in communicating the work of MIT,” Rosenthal said. “We want to make research and innovation accessible to everyone, and our new [plan] sets some pretty ambitious goals for recreating the museum as a gateway to MIT.”

The first step of this plan has been to create programs that reach out to a more diverse audience than the one the museum has seen in past years, Rosenthal said. One of these programs is the “Soap Box” events, which are a monthly series of discussions led by some of MIT’s renowned researchers in a casual setting supplemented with cheese and wine. The discussions are usually centered around topics that lead to interesting debates among the adult audience. The next three “Soap Box” discussions will focus on energy and global warming, Rosenthal said.

For the more youthful crowd, the MIT Museum is partnering with local channel WGBH, the city of Cambridge, Harvard University, the Cambridge public school system, Cambridge Public Libraries, and the Boston Museum of Science to hold the first annual Cambridge Science Festival from April 21–29 next year, said Josie Patterson, director of public relations and marketing.

“The goal of the festival is to showcase science in community, and to increase awareness about opportunities available in the community,” Patterson said.

Another significant transformation slated to take place soon is the extension of exhibits to the first floor of the current museum building, according to the museum’s brochure. Currently, exhibits are mostly located on the second floor. Next summer, visitors will be able to walk around the ground floor, which was previously occupied primarily by classrooms.

Within five years, the museum is expected to make the biggest change of all by moving to The Metropolitan Storage Warehouse. Location-wise, it is closer to the MIT campus and also has significantly more room for a greater number of displays. The modifications are estimated to cost upwards of $2.5 million, Patterson said.

Rosenthal said that a surprising majority of the way people hear about the museum is through word of mouth.