by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It is always tough to see a colleague leave the Homestead, but, when that co-worker has an opportunity to grow and expand, there is also happiness that they are getting a chance to develop their potential. This is most definitely the case with Jennifer Scerra, our programs and design coordinator, who has left us after six years to become the Assistant Director of Visitor Engagement at the California Botanical Garden in Claremont.
Jennifer, who was raised in the Inland Empire, joined the Homestead in October 2015 after relocating from the East Coast, where she worked at the Museum of Science in Boston. Very quickly, we were impressed by her thoughtfulness, curiosity, deep awareness of process, creativity and her teamwork. Though she did not have much of a background on the region’s history before joining us (and many of us don’t!), she not only learned the history of the Workman and Temple family and greater Los Angeles, she offered insights that helped us think differently about the family and area.
She also brought her keen interests in such areas as science, health, gardening, landscaping and others that helped push us in new and different directions with our interpretation. This included work with our native garden, historical variety rose garden and a pollinating garden and she, with other staff, not just planned, but executed much of these, including preparing, planting and caring for the varieties grown in these areas.
For our festivals, Jennifer used her creativity to help develop stations near the historic houses to talk about science and health and doing so in ways that were fun, engaging and informative, while she also helped develop the Anachronic Escape program, a 1920s-themed escape room that required a tremendous amount of imagination and planning to bring to fruition. Another important program she helped steward was the Fiction Book Club, helping to choose a very diverse selection of works that touched on history but in a myriad of ways within the fiction genre.
With exhibits in the Homestead Museum Gallery, Jennifer utilized her many strengths in planning, design and education to help fashion very compelling, eye-catching, and informative displays on such subjects as woman suffrage and the temperance and Prohibition movements, as well as a current project for the centennial of the construction of La Casa Nueva. A good deal of this was the design element and anyone who has seen the curent one on temperance and Prohibition can see just how creative Jennifer really is and that will only be further confirmed when the La Casa Nueva display goes up sometime early in the new year.
As the pandemic struck and a lockdown ordered in March 2020, Jennifer was an important contributor in our ability to nimbly move into virtual programming, using her organizational, technical, creative and other skills as we were able to offer our first program within just five weeks. She was always keenly aware of museum educational ideas and trends and brought them into the discussion when it came to planning, especially after we had a staff decrease of 40% in 2020.
For example, she played a major role in helping to formulate new ideas for our 4th grade school program, something we are looking to implement in fall 2022 and she also put a great deal of effort into a piloted audio tour, which we are hoping to try out on a trial basis sometime next year. When she and her public program colleagues took on the task of providing some initial thoughts about the museum’s future this past June, Jennifer had a key role in helping to lay out some ideas for that roadmap.
That leads us to another very important part of her contributions and which was reflected in her job title, which was changed because of her very impressive efforts with design. Anyone who has any basic knowlede of that world understands that not only does good design require considerable creativity, but also a highly attuned awareness of what draws people visually to an advertisement, flyer, exhibit or other product.
We saw almost immediately just how strong her skills were with design as she quickly came up with striking and very creative concepts for a variety of items used in our marketing and promotion, as well as our educational, offerings. Some of this involved very intricate hand-drawn items, as well as work done by computer and we never ceased to be amazed at what Jennifer could come up with, whether it was an ad, event booth, exhibit concept and so on.
When the Homestead undertook a rebranding process, including the development of a new logo and core colors for promotion, a firm was hired to develop those, but it was important to not just have Jennifer be a key player in that process, but also to refine and develop the use of the elements of the rebranding process. This was the case especially with flyers and ads, but also with in-house developed letterhead and business card templates. It is hard to overstate the importance of this work both from the obvious matter of cost savings, but also from the visual impact her contributions have made.
On a personal level, Jennifer was just a delight to work with, with her calm, even-keeled presence and purpose-driven approach to projects, yet she always was able to provide keen insights directly and honestly. In such a team oriented environment as we seek to foster at the Homestead, her thoughtfulness and willingness to take on just about anything she was asked were greatly appreciated.
As said at the outset, it is never easy to see a colleague move on, especially someone like Jennifer who made so many contributions in a wide variety of areas, but we at the Homestead are also thrilled that she is getting an opportunity to take her talents to a new level at the California Botanical Garden. Meanwhile, as we say goodbye to her and having done so with Alexandra Rasic in September, we also say hello to a trio of new and returning staff members and check back with us tomorrow about that!