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The Big Interview: Jean Franczyk, MOSI boss

Jonathan Schofield gets a MOSI state of the nation message and a Corrie knock-back

Published on April 11th 2012.

The Big Interview: Jean Franczyk, MOSI boss

“THERE’S going to be someone out there who is probably the best in the world at running a Coronation Street visitor attraction but,” Jean M Franczyk pauses theatrically, “it’s not going to be the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.”

“That's not our role. We have so much work to do in celebrating the historic site and contents we already possess. Coronation Street is for someone else.”

"You know I catch my breath sometimes. Look at the raw materials we have here. This site for instance, which is as precious as the exhibits." 

Out of the window of Franczyk’s office we both glance at ‘The Street’ which lies twenty five metres to the north - me more wistfully than the new boss of the museum.

Since Confidential raised the issue of Coronation Street HERE we’ve been looking for ways to ensure the survival of this popular culture asset when ITV/Granada moves to its MediaCityUK site. Incorporation in a new MOSI gallery concentrating on the city’s broadcast heritage was, we felt, a good idea. That's clearly not going to happen.

You can see see Franczyk's point about concentrating on MOSI as it's presently arranged.

The museum is under new management, within the National Museum of Science and Industry. This is a family of museums including the Science Museum in London, the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The new people want to tighten things up, get some direction, thus Franczyk's in the second trouble-shooting month of a two year secondment kicking things into shape. 

Franczyk has already tidied up the entrance of MOSI by closing it as a car parkFranczyk has already tidied up the entrance of MOSI by closing it as a car park

Franczyk's originally from Chicago. She has that folksy US way of starting dialogue with encouraging intros such as "Well that's exactly it..." "Do you know what it is though..." "Well there you go...." "So this is it, right..." She learns forward and speaks with passion and force. It's refreshing. Or terrifying, I imagine, if I were on the end of a telling off.

Is she a 'tough-ass' act?

"You're best asking people here about that," she laughs. "I set the bar high. I am also willing to take the decision and move forward. I’ve got high standards, I like to be creative but I also understand how to deliver. If that means letting some things go, then so be it. We’re still in the middle of that process. We shouldn’t be expansionist for expansionism sake, we've just got to make this amazing site work."

"The good news is that it already is," continues Franczyk. "The current visitor figures are over 830,000 per year. Now let’s make sure we are creating the best possible experience with the tools we have and get those visitors back time and again. That’s good for us as a museum and a business but also helps our advocacy of science, research, engineering and so forth."

Doe she think she can tip the million?

"Our objective is to do the best we can with the numbers we have. If we do that then let’s see. You can get obsessed by numbers, I want to be just as concerned with quality as I am with quantity."

This focus on the key themes of the Museum of Science and Industry will mean relevant temporary exhibitions not some of the crazy off-piste excursions of the last decade nor the endless round of dinosaur exhibitions.

"If you can do it at a shopping mall, or an exhibition centre or a circus, you shouldn’t be doing it here," says Franczyk. "For example I think Natural History museums are best for dinosaur shows - they match. I want to engage with contemporary science issues that fit with MOSI.

"I’m really proud of the way we take a lead and curate Manchester Science Festival for example. That’s us doing our job. It's not like we have to default to dinosaur exhibitions, there is so much here to focus on, just a walk around this site makes my mind work overboard on the potential. 

"My late father was a machinist and when you walk into the Power Hall that’s pure drama, that smell of engine oil takes you back straight to the work bench. Those engines made Manchester a global city, let’s wave a flag about that.

"I want to connect people to the places where they live. In Manchester there are lots of ways into the stories."

So how will she measure her success after the two years secondment

Without hesitation she says, "I’ll measure my success by having a museum that presents itself to visitors in a much more live and participatory way. And that we have a set of priorities that can be funded as we go forward - a plan of what we can deliver over the next six to twenty four months that connects the site to the city in such way we have the confidence to go and sell it to funders."

"You, know, as far as I can see, there’s no point being anything but ambitious. I feel this city has energy, it’s a can-do type of place. The museum should be the same."

One area that frustrates Franczyk at present is the general shabbiness of MOSI. Outside the sparkling new exhibition space telling Manchester's role in scientific acheivement, many of the exhibitions are grubby or faded.

Maybe the £7m spent on the new gallery should have been spent sprucing up what the museum already had. Areas such as the formerly splendid gallery in the 1830 building devoted to Manchester's history are simply embarrassing. Indeed I find it difficult as a tour guide to take people into MOSI although I may encourage those with a specialist interest to rummage around the place for themselves.

Tatty and ripped displaysTatty and ripped displays

"I’m in the middle of a campaign to remove signs attached with blue-tack, that’s Level One, there’s no place for it," agrees Franczyk. "I’m new to the iPhone, but the camera on the phone is getting a lot of use. People see me going round and say ‘oh no here she comes’ and I snap a picture and use the evidence to solve the problem.

"We are scruffy, and there’s no place for that. It’s not good enough, it shows a lack of respect for the visitors. It’s not just cleanliness though, it’s are we providing an interesting experience for visitors? This goes much deeper than just picking up the rubbish."

Campaign against amateurish signsCampaign against amateurish signs

"There are changes we can take immediately as well. Among my first impressions – and this goes back several years – was that I’ve entered the parking lot. So we won’t be parking vehicles up front at the entrance to the site anymore but showing off this big complex museum campus without the vehicles getting in the way. I don’t want people to think they’ve walked into a car park."

She seems a proper doer of deeds our Jean M Franczyk.

Her job at the National Museum of Science and Industry has been as the Director of Learning at NMSI. She has led and leads a team of over 120 who reach more than 1.25 million participants a year through a variety of learning programmes. 

Now it appears it's full steam ahead (ho, ho) at MOSI.

Learning is at the heart of it all: passing a passion for science and industry on to the next generation is her goal.

Francyzk looks across the big boned 1880 floor of MOSI's administrative centre, at its robust brick, wood and iron civil engineering. 

"You know I catch my breath sometimes. Look at the raw materials we have here. This site for instance, which is as precious as the exhibits. We're so lucky. I want to animate the blank areas around the site to encourage people to come in - such as the long side down Liverpool Road - get things going.

"I know I have to make the place as exciting as possible for everybody especially the young. That'll be another measure of my success. I want at the end of this to be telling the contemporary science story and have delivered a deeply interactive learning gallery for young people that is really triggering their interest in science, engineering and maths."

It'll be measured and tactical rather than frantic with Franczyk but MOSI should certainly be a better proposition in 2014 after the application of this American woman's experience and energy.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

The Magical Power Hall MosiThe Magical Power Hall MOSI

Jean M FranczykJean M Franczyk


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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Steve RomanApril 11th 2012.

Will MOSI be contributing to the International Congress of the History of Science, Medecine and Technology that will be in Manchester in July 2013?

Stephen LakeApril 11th 2012.

Long overdue and I like her comments about the car park. This should be the top family day out in the city. The place was packed on Monday. Hopefully she build on that quickly.

suzyblewApril 11th 2012.

would have got that sign reprinted on day 2!

I wonder if she has plans for the Harry Potter exhibition currently doing the rounds across the world's science museums which started in Chicago. Has been a massive sell out wherever it's been and certainly more affordable than the new one in Watford.

AnonymousApril 11th 2012.

What happened to the idea of running historic trams up Liverpool road and down Deansgate that would be good for the museum, and Deansgate virtually closed anyway

Robert MacraeApril 11th 2012.

I think they are missing a trick by not at least incorporating the street. It was a huge draw in its day. Yes, the 'studio' experience was naff in parts but people would still pay to walk the cobbles.

TV is an industry in its own way. There are plenty of exhibits in MOSI which are to do with Manchester's history, not just its industrial heritage, so I think it would be interesting for them to acknowledge the role Corrie played in shaping how people think about Manchester and the North. Even I as an American recognise that!

AnonymousApril 11th 2012.

Let's not obsess about the Corrie set, please. It's more important and achievable that the museum incorporates a proper broadcasting / media wing.

AnonymousApril 12th 2012.

MOSI has no in-house design team any more - that's why a lot of the signs have got shabby.

Margarette NavinApril 13th 2012.

Such a shame not to include Coronation Street as this is an example of a traditional street in an industrial city, the cobbles match those inside the Mosi site and people lived and worked in that type of environment amongst the factories etc. A wasted opportunity to expand upon our industrial heritage.

GurbirApril 13th 2012.

Great choice. The new director is already demonstrating some original ideas. Some exciting prospects of a new-look MOSI to look forward to.

Yesterday marked the 51st anniversary of Yuri Gagarin and mankind’s first human spaceflight. Gagarin visited Manchester in July 1961. This is an ideal opportunity to reconsider the possibility of relocating the Gagarin statue (unveiled last year in London) to outside the MOSI. The MOSI was a popular choice for the new site in this petition astrotalkuk.org/…/….

No public announcement has been made about the new site and the petition is still open. The statue has to move from the current site by July this year and it has already been paid for.

AnonymousApril 20th 2012.

Not sure one dinosaur exhibition counts as an 'endless round'. It's good to check facts man con!

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