Power Lunch: Day at the Museum

The driving force behind the Please Touch Museum — Nancy Kolb — reflects on retiring after 21 years on the job, how to get stuff done in this city, and why it’s time for women to start running Philadelphia

SK: Moving from Logan Square to Parkside was a big shift in culture and neighbors.

NK: We haven’t had a single battle with our neighbors. They’re thrilled to have us — not always the case in Logan Square. We’ve hired 60 people from the neighborhood. We buy from neighborhood businesses. Our ticket price is expensive [$15], so we have a program that enables area residents to “earn” a pass here by doing community service — it’s had a great impact in Parkside. When you add the Mann, the Zoo, the new high school and us, the prospects for the Centennial District are getting better.

SK: How do you think PTM compares to other children’s museums?

NK: We visited Boston, Chicago, St. Paul, San Francisco and even Las Vegas, where we looked at the M&M and Coca-Cola museums. When we got home, we were convinced that not only could we do this, but we could do it really well and make a place that kids would insist their parents bring them back to again and again.

SK: Is there a lesson for the community?

NK: Stop always thinking things won’t work! In this city more than any — in these times, especially — you’ve got to be an optimist. We can always find 10 million reasons why something won’t work. But we’re living proof that if it’s the right idea serving the right audience, it can be done.

SK: Can you sprinkle some fairy dust on the rest of us?

NK:  Mayor Nutter refers to me as “one of the biggest pains in my butt.” I’m fine with that. We knew that if we stayed on 21st Street, we would die. You can’t succumb to the naysayers. You’ve got to keep at it.

Can you see anything out there that has been overwhelmed by the obstacles?

The tragedy of the Civil War Museum has been very unfortunate. All of the support, good luck and opportunities that we got didn’t materialize for them. On the other hand, the Barnes is the poster child for getting big things done.

SK: Is it fair to say that much of the really great stuff happening here is the result of the leadership of women?

NK: [chuckles] Yes, isn’t it? Here, we’re doing what is expected — women taking care of children. But notice the economic burst we’re creating in the park, helping the Parkside communities, spurring regional visits to the city, reusing an old building. Why has the city — notably the Chamber of -Commerce — failed to grasp the incredible economic development role of the not-for-profit sector? Women run many of these nonprofit enterprises. They’re not represented on the Chamber or in the boardrooms of corporate Philadelphia. Women are deal-makers. We’ve shifted gears as often as we had to, and we’re better at it than men. Why is Pennsylvania’s government led and represented by the smallest number of women? I think in part, the process eats them up. The egos of the men. Women don’t get into leadership, and it’s time for that to end.