The digital publication of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

In Memoriam: John W. Jacobsen

Headshot of John Jacobsen
John Jacobsen (1945–2023). Photo courtesy of the family.

ASTC is sad to learn of the passing of John W. Jacobsen, a long-time member of the ASTC community, who was the founder and president of White Oak Associates.

Under his leadership and in close collaboration with his wife and partner, Jeanie Stahl, White Oak Associates was a prominent museum planner, helping guide the launch of new museums, expansions, reinventions, theaters, and more over several decades. White Oak’s client list includes scores of ASTC-member institutions.

As a child, John was enthralled by science and reportedly had a chemistry lab in his basement, where he practiced magic, explored explosives, and bred fruit flies. In college, he found biochemistry boring and wound up being involved in art and theater. He serving as scenic and lighting designer for dozens of theater productions and taught at Emerson and Wheaton Colleges, all while trying to become a great fine art painter.

His first museum project was work on the Salem Witch Museum’s innovative presentation of the 1692 witch trials, which incorporated life-sized staging and dramatic lighting and sound. In addition to many consulting projects, John also served as Associate Director of the Museum of Science, Boston, where he led the opening of the museum’s new Hall Wing and its Mugar Omni Theater.

John and Jeanie also established the White Oak Institute as a nonprofit organization conducting and disseminating research on museum impact and performance. His thinking on how we measure the value of museums has been especially influential.

After his retiring in 2017, John continued his service to the museum community, including publishing several books and serving as a volunteer advisor to several institutions.

For those so inclined, the family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in John’s name to the museum of your choice. Additional information about John’s life and the opportunity to share a remembrance is available in this obituary.

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