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PowerPlayer: Worcester Historical Museum’s Bill Wallace

Monday, March 25, 2013

 

Greater Worcester Community Foundation photo. Dan Vaillancourt, photographer

GoLocalWorcester shines the spotlight on one individual who you may not know that is making an impact on Worcester and the Central Mass region. This week, we sat down with Bill Wallace, Executive Director of the Worcester Historical Museum, as well as chair of the City’'s Hope Cemetery Commission and co-founder of the Friends of Hope Cemetery.

From your involvement with the Worcester Historical Museum, what are three things you've learned about Worcester residents that most people don't know?

What impresses me most is what most people already know: Worcester residents are curious, generous and strong--all qualities developed from their unique personal stories--so many of which we either share at Worcester Historical Museum or are anxious to capture. Worcester is an exciting mix of people, ideas, traditions and creativity, of new residents just arrived from all around the world along side those whose families have been here for generations.

Together, they have created and help continue to sustain the dynamic community in which we live, work and play. On a personal level, it might be the factories and buildings in which their parents worked or their families got their start, the three-deckers or ranch houses that were their childhood homes, or the school where they learned and made life-long friendships. On the city level, it is the knowledge of the businesses, colleges and universities, and cultural institutions, big and small, which define their Worcester.

What have been the most noteworthy changes in Worcester and the Central Mass region as a whole over the past few years? What can Worcester's history tell us about its future?

Reinvention. From the monkey wrench to integrated circuits to life-saving nano-surgical procedures, Worcester continues to reinvent itself. A revived Mechanics Hall, a soon-to-be Theatre District, City Square, the exciting Canal District, bio-tech parks, redefined cultural organizations and partnerships--the list is endless. At each turn Worcester creatively moves society, business and history forward as a city grounded in innovation and enterprise.

Take us through a day in your life.

As the CEO of Worcester Historical Museum, much of my day is devoted to a myriad of basic administrative issues. The most exciting part of the job is the partnerships we build with individuals, groups and other organizations throughout the community. Whether doing research for an exhibit, welcoming school kids to the new Alden Family Gallery, or off-site making a presentation about some aspect of Worcester’s history, it’s all about both sharing and learning. Non-profit days can be long, but the best ones are when we make new friends and gain new perspectives on our common past.

What are the challenges?

Worcester Historical Museum is unique in its role as the keepers of the city’s history. We are like a big, shared family album--a place to explore what has been achieved and a source of inspiration for what will come next. We are uniquely Worcester: "Your past. Your history. Your future."

The greatest challenge is the scale of the stories we are intent upon securing and sharing. The density and depth of our history challenge a small staff that wants to save and share it all!

And, we must be relevant (our new Alden Family Gallery and changing exhibitions, as examples) and current--new and expanded programs, digitized collections, social media, etc. The challenge is to balance creativity and momentum with long-term financial stability, especially in uncertain economic times.

Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I’'m a Brussels sprouts addict. Roasted, not steamed!

Quick Hitters

Role Models: Samuel Staples, founder of what is today Worcester Historical Museum, for his vision of a single resource for the history of community. Norma Feingold, curator of the WHM exhibit “Water Street” and author of the accompanying catalog, for “setting the bar” for collecting and sharing new and little known stories of our shared past. Chuck Todd, NBC White House correspondent, for being “incorrigible” by asking too many questions. You can’t learn about Worcester if you don’t ask! Al Southwick, T&G columnist, for always having a fascinating (and very readable) new Worcester story to share with us.

Favorite Restaurant: It’s impossible to name one in a city like Worcester, so filled we great venues and great food. Favorite? Depends on the day and who your dining with.

Best Place to People Watch: Sorry, Worcester: Disneyland or any other Disney property.

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: "Ernest Thayer’s 'Casey at the Bat'" by Jim Moore and Natalie Vermilyea. Not a new release but a little-known fascinating documentation of one of the most famous poems in American history and its origins right here in downtown on Chatham Street 125 years ago this June. You can’t read too much Worcester history!

Advice for the Next William Wallace: Work hard, have fun and “Celebrate Worcester.” (P.S. Don’t take yourself too seriously!) 

 

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