Friday, November 22nd, 2013
In the winter of 1999 I moved into a leaky apartment in a paint-chipping house at 210 East Genesee St. in Fayetteville, NY. My goal: restore and open to the public the home of Matilda Joslyn Gage, one of the unsung heroines of the women’s rights movement. Fourteen years later, after a million dollar capital campaign, the Gage Home is an award-winning Center for Dialogue on Social Justice Issues, lauded as a model for the new participatory, dialogue-driven museum of the future. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience awarded us a grant to develop a pilot dialogue program on reproductive choice, and then asked us to be the U.S. partner with museums in Chile and Sri Lanka in creating a Girl Ambassador for Human Rights program. In the past several years we have been recognized nationally and internationally– and I have been traveling extensively to present at conferences, seminars and even to testify on Capitol Hill. Last year I received the Katherine Coffey award for museum excellence, presented by the Mid-Atlantic Museum Association.
All of this unexpected attention, while gratifying, places a burden not only on my own time, but also on our other ongoing programs. We need to pause, take a breath, and look closely at our goals, succession planning and capacity. The board took a first step by establishing the Girl Ambassador program as our signature initiative. Twenty Girl Ambassadors were chosen this year from 11 local high schools, a richly diverse group learning from each other as well as our international connections, with five girls returning from last year as mentors. Seven of the Girl Ambassadors presented at the recent CNY Social Studies conference on women’s rights, and the girls are all interviewing women leaders locally and nationally and planning a March trip to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The second step involves exploring ways to continue both the local and national work without straining either endeavor. We maintain our local footprint, with a museum embraced by residents and tourists alike. Visitors are invited to break all the rules of museums – sit on the furniture, eat and drink, try on the clothes, play the piano and write on the walls. We use dialogue as the language of the organization, and social-justice themed rooms as the interpretive plan. We are not closing our doors, but will require patience as we work through best next steps.
While the Gage Foundation Board of Trustees reorganizes and plans for the next phase of our work I am transitioning from Executive Director to Founding Director, concentrating on the Girl Ambassador program. This is an opportunity I welcome and have long sought. I want to celebrate what we’ve achieved, and to thank the community for your generous welcome and support of the new kid on the block, seeing the potential of the Gage Center and ensuring that it would become a vital part of this community.
I invite everyone to join us – board, volunteers and donors – in envisioning the future. Feel free to contact us at email@example.com. The community has been an integral part of creating this Gage Foundation legacy and I want to thank you for your faith and encouragement and support. Together we have done great things. There are more great things awaiting us together in the future. Stay tuned….
Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D.
Founding Director, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation
Adjunct Faculty, Honors Program, Syracuse University