When it opened last month, the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden received mostly glowing reviews, and understandably so. It's hard not to be at least a little awed by a $62 million science playground that packs more than 150 interactive exhibits into eight prime acres at the Dallas Arboretum.
For Melissa Wright, the woman hired to run the operation, the magic wore off fast. "There's nothing good to say," she told Unfair Park on Tuesday afternoon, describing the garden as a "debacle." Then, she settled on a choicer phrase. "It is a clusterfuck, honestly. Everything over there is a clusterfuck."
Wright, if you haven't already guessed, no longer works at the arboretum. She quit in frustration after two months on the job with plans to reopen The Lab, the quirky, free-wheeling kids' science space she ran for three years in East Dallas. She has a tough time summing up her complaints, which are voluminous, but she gave it a shot.
The infighting, she says, was horrendous. Meetings were dominated by gossip and backbiting. The work environment was "extremely toxic." When problems arose, workers were more inclined to reference their seniority and blame vendors than to try and solve them, which is why she says that a good portion of the exhibits are currently broken. No one else cared about science education.
A lot of those are typical workplace gripes, she knows, but they were Kafkaesque in scope. "They just seem to accept that chaos," Wright says of her former colleagues. To anyone who "really likes clarity and solid communication and ... people not talking out of both sides of their mouth, if you value just things making sense," the arboretum is a bad place.
"It's like a fucking parallel universe," she says. "It's like a bad South Park episode."
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In response to our call about Wright's departure, the arboretum passed along a statement saying that it was "designed and built to meet and exceed national and state science education standards for life and earth science."
"The responses we are getting from teachers who have brought their students to the garden has been overwhelmingly positive," it said. "We are proud of our garden and the resource it brings to the campaign to improve science understanding in children."
Wright? Not so much. "I was embarrassed by the place, frankly," she says. It is, she predicts, destined to become "just another half-assed attempt at making Dallas world-class or whatever."