Nov 30, 2008

Living at a Museum

Welcome to my entry for the "My Favourite Museum" boneyard. Now because Traumador has published on the Tyrrell museum and I couldn't really hope to add much to what he's already said, I've decided to come at this topic a different way.

For many of us museums are a fun place to visit and explore, some us very lucky people even get to work at them, but only a few of us can realistically claim to have lived at a museum.

I am one of those few. While I worked at the Royal Tyrrell Museum's Badlands Science Camp in 2005, for all intents and purposes I LIVED at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Though I worked at camp two years (2005 and 2006) it was only in the camps pilot year that I truly HAD to live at the museum. In this first year it was not certain how the general public and the locals would react to and treat our camp site. Being located just off the major footpath in Midland Provincial Park there was a lot of potential for vandalism and trespassing. So the staff were required to live on site to ensure that it was "secure".
Fortunately nobody had it in for our camp stuff, and every year after the first staff have been required to NOT live on site. Probably because of we the first lot. Not that we were badly behaved, but just rather it proved to be an odd experience for us AND the museum as a whole.
Now technically we lived in the camp's tepees, which, okay granted, weren't really a physical part of the museum. Yet they were just one step removed from being so. Being a mere 10 minute walk from the museum, and with no really infrastructure of their own to begin with (we didn't get a proper toilet at camp for 3 weeks!) we staffers ended up living out of the camp office and staff lounge at the Tyrrell an awful lot!

There had never been staff quite like us.
In the morning we'd wake up tend to any on site stuff, and than trek into the museum as the opening shift was arriving. Making us among the first in the place for the day. We'd shower, eat breakfast (in the staff room, much to the annoyance of some of the big brass), and than get to work in the camp office.
Our work day technically ended at 4pm like the other early people, but as all we really had to do was either go hangout in the badlands for the rest of the day or stay in the air conditioned and populated museum. So we usually opted to keep working until 7-8pm. We didn't mind not getting paid, there was a ton of stuff to set up before the kids showed up that first year.
By the time we brushed our teeth, hit the toilet (again it took us forever to get one on site!), and hiked ourselves back to the camp, we were among the last to leave the building.
Working at the museum two years previous had taken some of the magical edge off the place. Living there killed the magic off in many ways. The Tyrrell has never been quite the same for me since. Not that it is a bad thing.
In some ways I'm closer to the place than the people who have been working there since it opened. It has a feeling of home, and that's because, apart from sleeping, I really did live in that place (and when the kids were at camp we'd sleep one night of the 5 in the Dinosaur Hall!).
Now I've of course already posted about some of my work experiences at the museum, but mostly to do with the palaeo side of my job. Camp was a totally different set of experiences and rewards. I'd worked summer camps before, and I'd worked at the museum before, but combining the two has been my favourite job so far in my life.

Sure much of the magic was taken off working at the museum, but at the same time I gained something way cooler. I became Mr. Museum!
Building a camp from the ground up is intense and you need the help and resources of all kinds of people. Being one of 3 people running around and rallying this help and those resources I quickly built an incredible network around the museum. It was so cool to get to know and work with nearly every department and branch of the institution. Even cooler is that I can still go in and visit most of them even these days! I haven't worked there in 2 years!

The other awesome thing about living at work is the bonds you make with your fellow staff. Now this is more an element of the summer camp, and not so much the museum (and I have the same thing with many of the Kiwanians), but these guys are more like family than co-workers or friends.

Of course I also have always loved working with kids, and that was pretty much all I did both those years from the beginning of July till the end of August. The fact I was educating, and doing Dinosaurs and palaeo was just icing on the cake!

What was even cooler was that due to our program being 5 continuous days of living (with the kids) at the museum, we had to fill up the time with some pretty unique experiences to make it worth their while. As of such the kids got to be, all but one step removed from, actual palaeontologists those 5 days. They got to go places and do things other visitors could only dream of... Of course as the staff member leading 6 camps all summer I got to do it ALL 6 times! Two years in a row!!!

Our collections tour for example. My first 2 years as an interpreter I got to see collections once a year. After two years of camp and the 8 collections visits, I got "tired" of the place... Not really, but it wasn't an elusive elite place anymore.

The educator in me had a field day. Literally sometimes (pun intended!). My big complaint with teaching for real is you can't have fun like this or be this silly in the skool system.

Another one of the things I had a lot of fun with was the program development. Due to our having SO much time to fill we camp staff invented probably 2 days worth of stuff that was spread out throughout the week for the kids to do. It was cool seeing the 6 programs I came up with go from ideas on paper in the pre-season, get setup and put together usually just in time for the kids to arrive, and finally see the campers try them out.

Granted not all of them were hits or without their flaws. The problem with only have 2 months (with no great play testing time) is that sometimes these ideas didn't work out. The most infamous of these was my "bloody" Corythosaur.
Despite these set backs and minor crisis, I enjoyed them in a way too. I got to creative problem solve. Something I do enjoy about substitute teaching these days.

I also doubled my canoe experience those summers. Due to my being a certified (expired mind you) flatwater canoe instructor I got to lead all 8 trips of those summers. The red deer river was a piece of cake to boat, despite it being a "moving" body, and there were no truly scary moments or incidents. Mind you like all field outings there were many stressful moments for us staff, but the kids loved it.

However my favourite of favourite memories from camp though, were the themes. A summer camp theme is basically a improv interactive drama put on for the kids where all the events of camp are framed with a loose story. At Kiwanis these were put to minor to moderate use in my day there, and as it was my favourite thing I brought it to Science camp with a vengeance.
There is almost nothing else I love more in the world than putting on a costume and pretending I'm someone way more fantastic or cool than myself. Especially around kids as they have imaginations enough to keep up with my own. That and they appreciate make belief for the fun that it is!

Taking my 3 years at Kiwanis and their themes, I perfected camp theme to a level that will probably never be rivalled at our budget! You can get the whole story about that here.

A huge bit of camp, that lives on into this day, was Traumador. He was entwined in everything we did at camp. Often "helping" introduce or lead programs, or in a few cases the one delivering the program...

So much was Traumador a key part of these good times, me and Peter realized that to keep something of these summers alive later in our lives Traumador was our best bet. The Tyrannosaur Chronicles owes its existence to Traumador being the heart and soul of camp.

Those days are sadly over, and they're not coming back. I'll always miss the unexpected nature of camp, and the way every day ended up being a thousand adventures (big and small). You never know what was going to happen. Whether it be a random visit from the hospital helicopter (not for medical reasons thankfully!) one minute, head off to canoe the river, dig or look for fossils, or get into costume as a villainous "minion" jump into your car drive to the field trip across the valley so the bad guys appeared to be everywhere!

I still remember this moment with crystal clarity. This picture was taken 30 seconds after I delivered my last program at camp ever. Here you see all my key camp tools piled together on a chair as you'd never see them during a camp. During camp they were my lifeline, and always in use getting me to the end of the day. Now they were just idly sit here ready to collect dust. Because camp would never come to them (or me) again.
Yes I do miss camp often, but at the same time I also realize I need to get on with my life. More to the point there's bound to be something else out there that is as equal an adventure as living at a museum. So if you know what it is could you let me know.


Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

yes, we have to move on .... without forgetting beautiful experiences like this one!

Raptor Lewis said...

What Dinorider said.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

you are right! now THESE pachyrhinos look way more agile and beefy without being that bulky.