A People’s Museum

A People’s Museum

M argaret Anne Tockarshewsky’s desk is covered with her History homework. She’s been on the job as Executive Director of the New Haven Museum (formerly the New Haven Historical Society) since Feb. 1 and knows full well that this is a city that takes time to know well. One of her self-motivated learning assignments is to meet a new person in the community every day who can give her fresh insights into her new home.

“I’m spending the first few months listening,” says Tockarshewsky, sorting the stacks of newspaper clippings, history books, photographs and brochures on the conference table in her office. “It’s about entering this community and hearing their stories. I’m finding that people have very strong opinions, but that everybody has the best interests of the city at heart.”

In recent years, the Museum has been building momentum, becoming known not just for its fascinating local history exhibits and its exceptional photo archive and research library, but for its lecture series and other public events. Tockarshewsky wants to build on that new

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reputation, especially with more family-oriented activities and more arts-oriented programming.

Upcoming events include a lecture on “Exploration, Discovery, Mutiny & Money: Captain Adriaen Block and His Journey to Long Island Sound” at 7:30 p.m. on April 11, and an 8 p.m. April 26 lecture by Wesleyan Prof. Jelle de Boer which relates to New Haven Museum’s current hit exhibit “East & West Rock: New Haven’s Sentinels”.

Tockarshewsky comes to New Haven from Queens, a city even more ethnically and culturally diverse than New Haven. She held a number of positions at the Queens Botanical Gardens, interrupting her time there to get a graduate degree in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. While at Columbia, she remembers visiting New Haven on a class project to see some of the city’s landmark

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buildings. She gushes about how the gardens in Queens were a common ground enjoyed by a wide variety of people. “Everybody was at the Botanical Garden. We tried to engage our visitors, and do programs that appealed to them.” She clearly wants New Haven Museum to be the same sort of gathering place.

“My background is so varied,” Tockarshewsky says. “I started as a museum publicist, and have experience in all kinds of museum work. I think about museums and historic sites all the time.” She sees all sorts of potential utilizing the Museum’s existing assets, starting with Whitney Library, which takes up much of the ground floor. “The library is underappreciated. It’s an enormous resource.”

Besides wanting to know “everything” about the city, Tockarshewsky realizes she’s hitting town just as a slew of notable anniversaries are being marked: the New Haven Free Public Library just turned 125. New Haven turns 375 years old next year. And New Haven Museum, founded in 1862 as the New Haven Colony Historical Society, joins in all the historical significance, too, celebrating its sesquicentennial (that’s 150th anniversary for those of you without a dictionary close at hand) this year.

Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky wants to honor that history by making it newly relevant. She wants New Haven Museum to be “approachable, accessible, a people’s museum.”

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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