An Interview with David Goudy
Go back to 1981, and paint us a picture of your first month as executive director of the Montshire.
My office was a tiny room (it may have been a former janitor’s closet) at the opposite end of the building from the rest of the staff. The Museum floor had 9” squares of linoleum tile, arranged in checkerboard patterns. The receptionist had an infant and a dog, both of which were always present. And, it looked very much like a bowling alley; there was no mistaking the architecture.
My first interview visit was on a beautiful day in May. Just as we got off at the Norwich exit, the view was spectacular— an undeveloped forested parcel to the immediate right, the river in the mid ground, and all framed by the evergreen forest on the ridge of Hanover. And not knowing anything, I made what was a totally naive comment to the person who picked me up; I said, “That’s where you ought to put your museum.” It was just so gorgeous, right next to the river, and it turns out to be where we are.
What have been the most rewarding parts of your job?
The Montshire is a place the community loves, and cares about, and they say it all the time in so many ways. To have been involved in working to make something for which there is so much community pride is ... well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Everywhere I go people stop and say what a wonderful time they had with their kids or grandkids, or just coming in as adults.
The flip side—what’s been the most challenging part of your job?
Well, the early years were really challenging because there were no resources, there were just some dreams, and there were many days that I didn’t know if we could pull this off. I can’t tell you how many times I had to call the board treasurer and say, “Payroll is tomorrow and there’s not enough money in the bank. What do I do?” It was really tough.
What are the biggest risks you took?
Well, buying this property was one. Before I arrived, the Museum had a purchase agreement on a different piece of property. It would have offered an improvement over the bowling alley, but I didn’t think doing a little bit better was sufficient. So, we eventually shifted our attention to this property.
There were many challenges in acquiring it, for example, there was a 40,000-volt power line crossing through the middle of it. I had some hopes that we could move it, but that was an enormously difficult effort with all sorts of regulatory and joint landowner issues. So it wasn’t clear that we could move the power lines, but we couldn’t wait to find out, and we couldn’t move the power lines until we owned the property.
Some of the most wonderful portions of the property are what is now the Quinn Preserve, which at that time we didn’t own, and once we did acquire the property we could not access it because of the railroad. It took us many years of negotiations with the railroad to get permission to go under the tracks, but it finally happened. That, and the generosity of the Quinns, allowed us to move forward.
What do you see as the greatest factors contributing to Montshire’s success?
Well, I think the Montshire is so clearly rooted in the community and it’s so connected on so many different levels. And because we are unusual among U.S. science museums in not receiving any significant state or local government funding, we are particularly dependent on membership revenue and admission revenue to balance our budget. We have to pay very close attention that we are doing things that people want and they care about. It forces us to be more diligent about customer service and the quality of our exhibits. So it's that really close connection with our community and our visitors and members that I think has honed our level of quality.
We are celebrating 25 years in our Norwich location. How does the vision you had then compare to what the Montshire is today?
Well, I never imagined 25 years ago all that Montshire is today. It has evolved and I can’t say that I had all this in my mind back then. It’s not the case. I am kind of astonished at what’s been accomplished. It was a big task when we moved to Norwich just to come up with new exhibits to fill the larger space. We didn't have any budget to put exhibits in the building when we moved .So, the first order of business after we opened was to spend the next few years just developing and building some better exhibits in this building.
What keeps you excited and interested in your work everyday?
Oh, there's just so much more to do! I mean there's just SO much more this staff is capable of doing with exciting programs and exhibits. I could easily write down 20 ideas that would take 20 years to accomplish, and every one of them would be really exciting to me.
What keeps you up at night?
I stay up at night worrying about budgets—the balance between finances and mission is always a challenge. I’ve always felt a strong responsibility to the staff to provide them with the resources they need to do their excellent work, and to the board and community to maintain a healthy financial status. There is substantial tension between these objectives, and as director I’m always at the dead center of that tension.
Is there any one thing that you are most proud of during your tenure?
I’m really proud of the staff here. It’s truly a phenomenal staff—the way in which they work together and the way in which they care about what we are doing, the way they care about our visitors. In my experience, it’s unique, and pretty special.
So, what are you going to miss?
I will miss hearing the laughter and excited conversations of families enjoying what we’ve created.
When you imagine the Museum in ten years, what does it look like?
Bob [Raiselis] has created a wonderful and innovative contextual framework to guide the development of our 100-acre landscape. My hope is in ten years there will be several major outdoor features that are on the scale and quality of Science Park. I hope to see completion of some significant modifications to the Woodland Garden that will make it more accessible for all visitors.
I also hope that in ten years the School Partnership Initiative reaches a more stable level of operation and support. The accomplishments of this initiative are so transformative in our rural schools, yet we struggle each year with available resources. We've also talked a lot about the opportunity the Museum has to facilitate, in a more formal way, a teacher professional development institute in collaboration with other regional educational organizations and focused on science, math, technology and engineering.
What about challenges for the next ten years?
Montshire has to maintain a real focus. There are many wonderful ideas, but the organization has to be focused on a core philosophy and avoid distractions.
It’s also going to be challenging to gain sufficient resources to move forward on new initiatives. We’re capable of doing some really extraordinary things as long as we can keep focused and bring in those resources.
So what bits of wisdom do you have for the next executive director?
It will be important for a new director to really understand what’s special and unique about Montshire, which is different than most science museums. A successful director will bring new and innovative ideas to guide Montshire’s future, but they will need to be thoughtfully tested and matched to the culture of Montshire and its community.
So, what do you plan on doing when you retire?
Oh, lots of grandchildren time. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to visit Montshire with a grandchild—a new and delightful experience for me. And, Susan and I are looking forward to lots of outdoor adventures and travel.