Chicopee resident named new director of Storrowton Village

7/19/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: July

Jessica Fontaine
Reminder Publications submitted photo

Jessica Fontaine still remembers when she first volunteered at Storrowton Village.

Her grandmother began volunteering at the living museum in the early 90s and shortly after, as a young girl she began borrowing a costume and tagging along.

“My grandmother was involved in a lot of different programs, but my memories are of the fair,” Fontaine recalled. “I remember sitting on the steps of the Potter House as my grandmother gave tours and I thought that was really cool.”

Fontaine eventually “officially” volunteered in 1998 as a junior counselor for the Early American Summer Days program and her passion never died.

“I’ve dabbled in just about everything around the village. Dennis would laugh and say that even if he had to put me in the blacksmith shop, I could do it,” said Fontaine, who has demonstrated everything from fireplace cooking, crafts, blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, and her specialty, loom knitting and has even knitted her own costumes over her nearly 20 years of volunteerism.

That passion, along with some encouragement from her grandmother, has now elevated her to the director of the village.

On June 14, Storrowton Village officially announced Fontaine would take over as the new director, taking the reins from longtime director Dennis Picard, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Previously serving as the director of Student Conduct, Rights and Responsibilities at Hampshire College with Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Westfield State University and a Master of Education in Psychology from Springfield College, Fontaine admitted she didn’t initially believe she’d be qualified for the job, assuming a degree in education would be required, but her grandmother encouraged her to re-examine the job description and apply.

“That night, I went back and looked at it and found it was much more about education than about history and that’s always been my interest – education in a non-traditional way,” she said. “I reached out to Dennis to see if he thought it was something I should pursue and his response was, ‘You need to get your resume in right away.’”

With her background in non-traditional education, she recognized the village provided a unique opportunity.

“One of the things I love about this place is having people come in with their ideas about what it is to go to a museum and having them leave with something totally different that’s relatable to their life now,” she said.

Fontaine said her transition has been smooth, thanks to her long history and familiarity with Storrowton Village and what has made it successful, but she also noted she has some plans of her own to branch out in the future.

“I value a lot of the programs and I know what our volunteers and the public hold dear and what people look forward to every year. We know that some of our events are part of people’s family traditions. I’m already holding some of that knowledge and I also know we need to bring in a different demographic. I want to be able to expand, to get different types of people and age groups coming.”

While seemingly a minor change, Fontaine said she won’t come to work everyday in costume.

“My feeling is I will be in costume anytime we have a program going on, but there are times I have to be relatable to people. I’m not in costume now because right now I’m Jessica of today,” she explained.

She also plans to implement a digital strategy to boost interest in the village.

“We’re trying to expand our social media, which is something that hasn’t been done much in the past in the museum. I’ve been working a lot with our marketing to reach out to that generation that is using social media to show them ways the museum is interesting to them.”

The purpose of the museum, she said is not only to put the past on display, but to connect the past with the present.

“The big thing for me is making sure that we’re relevant in this age and helping people see how we are connected to history and how history influences our current politics, how it influences the way we are as New Englanders, how it influences how we eat and things like that.”

One of her plans is to develop new community partnerships, such as one she is forging with LightHouse Holyoke, an alternative educational institution for teens that focuses on community interaction.

“I’d like to do more things like that where we’re bringing the teen generation in and thinking about some of the things from the mid-19th century and applying that to life today,” she said.

She’s also happy to have a strong working relationship with CEO Gene Cassidy and the rest of the upper management of the Eastern States Exposition.

“We’re all working on having a common vision and trying to see how we can better partner on events that are going on here, whether it’s figuring out different ways to attract people to this side of the grounds, working on new partnerships with the family that owns the tavern and figuring out ways to support each other.”

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