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Carnegie Mailroom installation memorializes HSSC donors

The+Carnegie+Mailroom+installation+in+the+HSSC+honors+donors+who+contributed+to+the+construction+of+the+center.+Photo+by+Andrew+Tucker.
The Carnegie Mailroom installation in the HSSC honors donors who contributed to the construction of the center. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

By Abraham Teuber
teuberab@grinnell.edu

When walking through the Humanities and Social Sciences Center (HSSC), students and faculty will see a new addition to the first floor: an installation featuring the recently refurbished mailboxes from the old post office in Carnegie Hall.

The mailboxes were installed in June as a part of a project organized by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations to honor the donors who made the construction of the HSSC possible. Jayn Chaney, Director of Alumni and Donor Relations, explained how the office decided to commemorate their philanthropy in an unusual format.

“More often than not, [there is] a large plaque that hangs on the wall and lists the names of the donors who contributed to the project … that’s lovely, but in this space, because of the unique blend of historic architecture that so many alumni are familiar with and the new architecture that has been built around it, we thought this might be an opportunity to do something a little bit different than the plaques we have done for other spaces,” Chaney said.

Chaney’s office worked with ZEBRADOG, the design studio that created all other signage in the HSSC and the new Admission and Financial Aid building, to plan how to best honor its donors. After consulting a committee of faculty, staff and students on how to reimagine the traditional plaque idea, they decided to incorporate out-of-commission mailboxes from the Carnegie mailroom.

The mailboxes are now housed in an alcove in the south side of the atrium. Each mailbox can be opened to reveal an individual, couple, family, or class whose financial gifts of $50,000 or more made the HSSC’s construction possible. Accompanying an image of the donor is a short biography or personal message explaining their connection to Grinnell and motivation for giving.

“This donation serves to acknowledge and honor the transformative experience a Grinnell education played in both their lives,” reads the mailbox of Alexandra Hoffman Gottdiener ‘86 and Charles Gottdiener ‘87.

The installation encourages passersby not only to read the donors’ stories, but also to write a message to one of the featured alumni. Visitors can write on postcards available in a box in a wall of the installation, and then deposit them into a mail slot to ensure the message reaches a donor. In the future, these messages may be displayed online as well.

As of now, 42 boxes in the installation do not yet feature a donor, and instead show a mirror, logo or quote when opened. These will be available to future donors who would like to make a financial contribution to the HSSC.

Since being added to the building in June, the mailboxes’ installation has been well-received for its interactive ability to connect with donors and to learn their stories.

“We have heard just wonderful feedback from alums who have been back on campus, from faculty and staff and even students who were on campus over the summer, that this is a really cool way of sharing stories by alumni and current students,” Chaney said. “It’s bringing philanthropy and alumni engagement with the college to life in a new and exciting way.”

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