Dallas Arboretum Children's Garden's Former Manager: "Everything Over There Is a Clusterfuck"

RoryMeyersChildrensGarden.jpg
Dallas Arboretum
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.

See also: Here's the Six-Story Parking Garage Proposed for the Dallas Arboretum

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."

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."

See also: The Dallas Arboretum No Longer Wants the City to Turn Winfrey Point into a Parking Lot

"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."


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77 comments
agregorie
agregorie

I worked at the arboretum for about 2.5 years. Everything Ms. Wright says is true. And it does come straight from the top. It's a beautiful place to visit and a horrible place to work. 

I could never be a member there and it's hard to visit without thinking of all the terrible, unethical business practices that I endured while working there. I can also immediately think of 12 people I worked with at the time that would say the exact same thing. Heed my words: don't even think about working at the Dallas Arboretum. 

NDallasMom
NDallasMom

I too used to work at the Arboretum in a management position and COMPLETELY agree with Ms. Wright. Being blamed constantly by Mary Brinegar because of other staff being inept or having to work with people who embezzle is a joke at best. I tried to hang in there for a few months hoping it would change but honestly it didn't. My entire department (sans the one pt person we had) left within a few months after me. Unless you are part of Mary's cronies and act as a bobblehead and nod and agree to whatever Mary says at meetings you will never be able to make it...at least sane that is.

k.vest
k.vest

Wow. Ms. Wright sounds extremely unprofessional, & this one-sided article says more about her than the Arboretum. I worked there for several years & am very familiar with the staff & children's garden. I've also worked for many different companies as a consultant & find that all have there issues since imperfect humans run them. We can choose to be part of the solution or walk away & move on. The Dallas Arboretum did not deserve this bit of media.

dougiedt
dougiedt

The problem all starts at the top with Mary Brinegar.  The woman is a tyrant.   She refers to minority employees as "the little people".   A bunch of cronyism with Mary's friends.   There are good staff members who have gone through the Arboretum -- so many have left because of the deplorable employment practices of the Arboretum. 

lakewoodmom
lakewoodmom

I think what the Arboretum is experiencing growing pains. When you add something of this magnitude  with so many moving parts it's bound to happen.  I have full confidence that everything will work out perfect.  The Arboretum is a wonderful place to visit.  Quiet frankly, it sounds like it might be a good things that Melissa Wright is not working at the Arboretum.

aseda124
aseda124

She is right about one thing.  The Arboretum is the most toxic place to work.  The turnover is so high (and management could care less) and the power struggles that take place inside are nauseating. 

Mary Brinegar rarely acknowledges those in a less powerful position than management and can be seen turning her back towards them.  Management follows her lead and treats the rest of the staff like dirt.  Not to mention the cronyism that takes place.  When will Brinegar realize that promotions should be based on achievements and merit rather than allowing management to hire their friends who are completely inept.

No wonder the Arboretum is the most hated non-profit in Dallas.

Smithings
Smithings

So she couldn't hack it there, threw a shit fit, is bad mouthing an employer after 2 months & is pimping out her failed business? Do something instead of run your mouth.

animas
animas

I love the straight forwardness of this woman's approach.  i just wish that she would get a public forum or run for office and attempt to analyze the toxic mess in Austin!

Willie
Willie

"just another half-assed attempt at making Dallas world-class or whatever."

Dead on accurate.  

RSFII
RSFII

Check out Ms. Wright on Facebook - she veers from one extreme to another.

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

Seems like most people here criticizing the Arboretum are doing so based on its reputation rather than anything of tangible substance.

Saying it is "an old institution" just wreaks of "I have my preconceived prejudices and nothing you say will change it."

Oh go boo hoo now that someone stepped on your little self congratulatory game of being negative and spout off how ignorant you think I am. I like Ms Wright will just tell you to go f*** yourself.

J_A_
J_A_

Hahaha Melisa Wright sounds awesome. I love that she said it's like a bad South Park episode. Who hasn't felt this way at work before, it's just no one gives a shit if you're pissed at your coworkers.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

Personally, I don't blame her for her profanity. I've seen the same exact situation before, far too many times: you get hired to do something different with a company, and the initial appearance is that the company is committed to doing something. Then you discover, once you're onboard, that most of the senior management is only interested in _pretending_ to do something. This way, when it flops, and it's guaranteed to flop when these jokers are in charge, they can cluck a bit about how they had no idea that this was going to happen, and then go back to their business. Not only will the collapse of the New Project guarantee that their own incompetence is hidden, and that they can hide their cost overruns and blatant theft in the costs of the New Project, but they'll be able to spend the next twenty years shooting down any similar proposals by sneering "Well, we tried something like that, and it didn't work."

anon
anon

Melissa's always had a potty mouth. She says what she thinks. Bluntly. 

ruddski
ruddski

Fucker probably had a potty mouth at meetings, caused fucking problems with those other fuckers, had to fucking resign.

jimamytate
jimamytate

This seems like a pretty one sided story? 


xdarkridex
xdarkridex

I haven't been to the park so...can the Obs or Eric come up with a -single- investigated actual issue here?  This article consists of a former employee saying the place is a mess with absolutely no quantifiable complaint short of '...a good portion of the exhibits are currently broken.'  

It's a public place, can nobody spend an hour to go down and actually do some legwork on the story and SEE if that statement is accurate?  Provide an objective source of information? You know, JOURNALISM?

What we have here could have been a comment down here just as easily as a 'story'.  Former employee says her former workplace sucks.  Workplace says no, we don't suck.  There -could- be a story here about the mismanagement of a supposed showplace for excellence, but we won't know because the Obs apparently can't send someone over to do 60 minutes of research and see if one exists or not.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Mary Brinegar's Playhouse: the horror is baaaack. 

Tolldya
Tolldya

I was trying to find another word to use other than Arboretum.  I think we're on to something.

catalyst
catalyst

It's a big park that has lots of third parties involved. So yeah, it's going to be a bit shaky. Things will smooth out. It's such a beautiful park that the right person will be able to handle the job properly, Melissa Wright just doesn't seem like she was able to handle this beast.

Domestellbto
Domestellbto

Sounds more like she was fired for cursing on the job. What a waste of space. Do you really think this will keep people away from the Garden, is that why you wrote this rubbish? My kids loved it.

k.vest
k.vest

Oh, & my children & I have visited the new children's garden & had a great time!

anonymous1234
anonymous1234

@aseda124

It starts with Brinegar hiring her buddies from her time at the Opera.

The staff will kiss her ass until she gets tired of them and fires them. Or recently, some are demoted and moved to other positions in the organization. One Vice president of Finance lasted about a month before she went back to her old job at another non-profit in town. Good for her. That department is a joke. That was in early 2009. DABS has a huge turnover rate. (6 or 7 people over Development since 2007) Some are fall guys for other people's fuck ups.

The arboretum has good people. The horticulture staff are awesome. Restaurant, operations, and ticketbooth staff have to deal with so much shit from the public. They are underpaid and most do not even receive benefits.

The Winfrey Point fiasco was embarrassing. The marketing department press statements were ridiculous. (Yes I know they are reading this, they like to surf the net all day, on Facebook and looking up clothes to buy, seriously..) I feel terrible for the Forest Hill homeowners that will have that monstrosity of a parking lot in their front yard.

I'm not surprised to read this. Kudos to you Melissa. Will check out The Lab. I will never visit or support DABS again.


messwright
messwright

You are correct, RSFII, I did move from being quite excited about accepting the position to complete disenchantment. Hence, my resignation. Other things you may have gathered from my public FB posts: I like to dance (poorly), I play with kids (always), and I wear glasses (nerdy ones). Any other questions, just ask. Really.

whirly123
whirly123

@JohnSmallBerries anything that comes out of Mess Wrights mouth is based on emotion rather than fact.  If you check out her outburst on fb you can see that for yourself. 


crimjunkie
crimjunkie

@JohnSmallBerries I like both Ms. Wright and the Arboretum.  I like Ms. Wright because she's likeable.  I like the Arboretum because it's a cool place and most of the folks there are all right.

I find Ms. Wright's charges believable.  She does not abide bullshit.  This is an admirable quality.

observist
observist topcommenter

@xdarkridex  You're right!  We are NOT getting the quality of journalism we deserve in exchange for our hard-earned... oh, wait... sorry, never mind.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@xdarkridex considering that they charge something like a $10 per child premium, there's no excuse for broken exhibits. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Park, Botanical gardens, gardens

Tolldya
Tolldya

@catalyst There are too many moving parts.  It's outdoors.  It's a dinosaur.  Fortunately, kids enjoy empty boxes so a functioning park sometimes just needs to sit there and be climbed on.  I'm sure it can at least do that.  Meanwhile, I think the Obamacare IT team may be looking for a job soon, so perhaps they'll be able to keep it running.

dingo
dingo

@Domestellbto They wrote it because they had a warm body they could quote, regardless of credibility, instead of the usual implication via innuendo pieces they write.

sammie
sammie

@RoscoeJ. @lakewoodmom I agree!  And I don't ever plan to patronize or endorse The Lab ever again, since she is going back to running it! Such a shame, since it was a really neat place.


whirly123
whirly123

@messwright Anyone who plays with kids regularly should not be speaking publicly like you do... language.  

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

Actually, I was thinking of contract work at Texas Instruments, but that works, too.

observist
observist topcommenter

@Tolldya @catalyst  No, only good developers need to find new jobs.  The Obamacare IT team is assured to have a job for life - they have to fix all the mistakes, then keep that rickety POS running.

NightSand
NightSand

@dingo @Domestellbto She was the director... that gives a certain amount of credibility.  They also contacted the other side and got nothing.  

crimjunkie
crimjunkie

@JohnSmallBerries Wow, you're a hella smart dude, John.  Maybe one day I can have logic and language skills like you.  Oh, to dream . . . .

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@crimjunkie If you had bothered to read my comments and interpret them using what is known as "English reading comprehension" you would see that I said "Seems like most people here criticizing the Arboretum are doing so based on its reputation rather than anything of tangible substance."

You will note that I did not specifically include you, and nor the boorishly spoken Ms Wright. I did include "most people" based on a specific criteria which could then be used to determine which "most" I was speaking of. Now MOST (haha see what I did there) people would interpret "most" to mean "not all." and if you were to grant that you did not meet the qualitative criteria given (i.e "criticizing.. based on its reputation rather than anything of tangible substance") then you would conclude using a little used tool known as "logic" that my commentary had nothing to do with you or the boorishly spoken Ms. Wright. 


So I have no idea why the fuck are you even commenting.

crimjunkie
crimjunkie

@JohnSmallBerries No, I'm addressing you.  I am critical of the Arboretum in this instance.  The Arboretum appears to have lived down to its reputation.  That is a tangible criticism, and it's coming from someone who is a member and who likes the Arboretum and will continue to visit it.

Now go fuck yourself, Mr. SmallBerries.

messwright
messwright

This is totally someone with the Arboretum. Makes me laugh. I hate anonymity/cowardice. Come on...

baduserexperience
baduserexperience

@gabe48 @dingo Sounds to me like they paid vendors to create exhibits and her coworkers felt the vendors should stand behind their work while she felt they should fix it themselves.

gabe48
gabe48

@dingo Dingo, are you currently employed by the Arboretum? This is not an attack, but I am baffled by your argument.

Quoted from the article: "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."

She pointed out infighting as a cause of exhibits being closed.  You realize this has a $10 admission fee, correct? You also realize that infighting shouldn't affect exhibits? This is a valid criticism, and a valid reason to leave a hostile working environment.

Your objection to her choice to use expletives has absolutely nothing to do with this article; it is a strawman argument.  But you don't seem to be above logical fallacies, as seen in your ad hominem attacks on this woman and the Observer.

NightSand
NightSand

@dingo @NightSand @Domestellbto I am not saying she was right or wrong.  You indicated that she had no credibility.  Being the director lends itself to being credible.  She sited that people were more concerned with their seniority than getting stuff done and that much blame was put on third parties, instead of looking for solutions.   I am sorry her language offends you, but to me it shows how upset she is with the whole production.   

dingo
dingo

@NightSand @dingo @DomestellbtoA director with zero comprehension of professional discourse.

If she wanted to obtain credibility with her remarks she would have  dropped the vernacular and provided details other than the generalized 

"nothing good, debacle, cluster-f, horrendous infighting, gossip, backbiting,extremely toxic, finger pointing, parallel universe, half-assed."

Like the article noted, these general criticisms are typical of any set of workplace gripes. 


Which specific facilities and programs were effected by what specific behaviors?

The 'other side' was obligated to provide more than a general, blanket statement to these generic workplace complaints?

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