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Joel N. Bloom, Lon​gtime Museum Director, Dies at 83

October 8, 2008
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Joel N. Bloom, 83, past director and president of the Science Museum and Fels Planetarium of The Franklin Science Institute, died Sept. 23, after a long illness at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, N.J.

Director and president of the Science Museum from 1969 until he retired in 1990, Bloom molded the institute into a world-class museum during his tenure.

Bloom's contributions to the local, national and international museum communities were legendary. He co-authored the influential "Museums for a New Century: A Report of the Commission on Museums for a New Century" in 1984.

He was a past president of the American Association of Museums, the first science museum president to serve in that capacity; chairman of the U.S. National Committee of the International Council of Museums; and founding president of the Association of Science-Technology Centers and recipient of its highest honor, the Fellow Membership Award.

Bloom was born and educated in New York City, earned his bachelor's degree at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and his master's from Columbia University. In 1948, he married, and he and his wife, Paula, moved to Israel, where he worked for the Israeli defense ministry. In 1958, Bloom joined the Institute as director of the systems science division of the Franklin Institute Research Laboratories. In 1968, he was asked to evaluate the science museum and make recommendations for its improvement; a year later, he was named director to implement his plan.

He soon made his mark with new exhibits, created by in-house designers; Day-Glo signs that brightened up the museum's hallways; and "do-its" -- hands-on science experiments that were printed on packages of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks and Tastykake pastries. His largest addition to the museum's collection was a full-sized Boeing 707 that, for 13 years, delighted millions of visitors.

During the 1980s, Bloom led, with President Richard T. Nalle Jr. and Campaign Chairman George E. Bartol III, a $13.5 million capital campaign to refurbish the museum's facilities and exhibits. His tenure culminated in 1990 with the completion of the Tuttleman Omniverse Theater and the Mandell Futures Center, containing eight permanent exhibits that focused on the science and technology of the 21st century.

Bloom recognized the potential for science museums to make real contributions to public science education, and leveraged his position at The Franklin and in professional organizations to change the role of science museums. Under his leadership, the museum launched the most extensive museum-school partnership in the nation, training teachers and placing hands-on science kits first in Philadelphia's public and diocesan elementary schools, then elsewhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Throughout his career, Bloom was deeply involved in Philadelphia's cultural community, as well as in national and international circles. In Philadelphia, he served on the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Commission as president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Upon his retirement from The Franklin Institute in 1990, The Philadelphia Inquirer credited him with taking the lead in "transforming The Franklin Institute over the last two decades from a dusty bin of outmoded exhibits into what is probably the most advanced science museum in the world." He was named an Honorary Member of the Board of Trustees in 1996, in recognition of his many years of dedicated service to The Franklin Institute. In 2002, the museum dedicated its newly renovated observatory as the Joel N. Bloom Observatory in his honor.

Bloom continued to be active for many years within the museum and educational communities, consulting for the Newseum; Scholastic, Inc; and many others. In 1993, he was honored with the prestigious Award for Distinguished Service to Museums from the American Association of Museums. In 2005, he was also included in the Centennial Honor Roll of 100 of America's museum champions who have worked to innovate, improve and expand museums in the United States over the last 100 years by AAM.

Bloom is survived by daughter Margo; sons Ron and Dan; brother Gabriel; and six grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Paula in 2006.

 

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