Yawkey Foundation Gives $10 Million Toward Charles River Exhibit

A $10 million gift will help tell the story of the Charles River right at the river's edge.

Proposed to rise three stories tall, the new Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River will stir the waterfront entrance at the Museum of Science with river heritage, ecology and habitat. Live animals, plants, and hands-on exhibits charged with interactive maps and water features are being integrated into two redesigned wings. The display is set to engage the museum's lobby framed in 50-foot windows that overlook the wide river and Boston's skyline. (See Yawkey Foundation: Boston Area Grants).

The museum's inaugural indoor-outdoor gallery experience is meant to carry the natural Charles River setting inside as museum patrons walk through the door.

"Trustees of the Yawkey Foundation are thrilled to support the Museum's effort to transform this central space into a dramatic three-story gallery and exhibit on the Charles River,"  said James P. Healey, Yawkey Foundation president, in announcing the funding gift in early 2013.

"We believe that the Museum of Science can tell the story of the natural and engineered worlds through the Charles River better than any museum in the world."

The exhibit looks to translate human life along the river, reaching back to early American Indian settlement and pressing through time to the present day. The museum hasn't released formal design plans, but said interactive features will explore various human use of and impacts on the Charles River, its flora and fauna, and the science of aquatic life in a changing climate. Animated displays are now in design, along with live fish and animal habitats arranged so museum patrons can engage varied aspects of the river surging just outside.

Museum officials are working with Cambridge Seven Associates to design the new Yawkey Gallery as part of a total $250 million in renovations planned over the next three years. Design of the new Yawkey Gallery of the Charles River entryway is set to begin in spring 2013 for construction in 2015. The new river interpretation gallery will encompass 5,000 square feet at a total installation cost of $21.2 million.

"The Yawkeys were steadfast champions of programs that inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to appreciate science and engineering," Healey said of the Foundation’s decision.

The Yawkey Foundation has supported the Museum of Science annually for 32 years. But the $10 million award makes a significant mark in the museum’s 186-year history. Museum of Science President Ioannis Miaoulis told the Boston Globe that the River project will enhance the museum’s mission to create a unique experience worldwide.

Yawkey Foundations I and II were established to honor the legacy of Tom and Jean Yawkey and their lifelong dedication to healthcare, education, human services, youth and amateur athletics, arts, culture, and conservation and wildlife.

In 2002, the foundations set a goal to support organizations that provide children and families with experience in science, history, art, music, dance, and sport, seeking programs that would ehance education and learning. That's a pretty broad mandate, but the foundations have plenty of cash. The family owned the Boston Red Sox for over 67 years before selling the baseball franchise in 2002 for $660 million. 

In 2011, Yawkey Foundation I and II had assets of nearly a half billion dollars and provided some $25 million in annual grant funds. But don't imagine that you'll get far knocking on this door. Based in Dedham, Massachusetts, trustees are currently not accepting applications from organizations not previously funded by the Yawkey Foundations. 

Don't call the Yawkey Foundations, they'll call you. Especially if you've been around for 186 years.