Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Observations from a Museum newbie.

There's nothing quite like the perspective of a newcomer. A couple weeks on the job here, and everyone wants to know, "How's it going?"  "What's it like there?"

So here's what I see...

First and foremost, I realize that I've taken the Museum for granted. It's easy to do when you've been in Bend for 20 years and it's right here, in your own backyard. The kids grow up, friends and family have all "been there, done that," so it falls off the radar. What I never realized was the variety of the exhibits, and how things change month to month, season to season.

I see all sorts of new stuff. Just in the last year there have been exhibits of Native American Beadwork, Oregon Quilts, the Botany of John Muir, High Desert Ranching, Butterflies and Hummingbirds. And coming soon, Dinosaurs and Frontier Firearms. There's always something new and intriguing to learn and if you look closely, you'll never get bored.

 I see a very a devoted team of volunteers. Everyday there are people who show up here, just out the goodness of their hearts. They love this place enough to give their time and their hard work, just because... Photographers, living history actors, greeters, you name it. They keep coming back, logging the volunteer hours. As many as 1000 hours in a year. So as a paid staff member, it really puts things in perspective.

I see pleasantly surprised visitors. Thousands of them! When you thumb through the comment cards, the most common refrain is "we could have spend a lot more time here." Or "wish we would have had another two hours." Expectations are consistently exceeded in pretty much every department and continually improving that visitor experience is a high priority for the staff.

I see kids grinning from ear to ear. Big groups of field trip kids chattering, parading around, just dying to see what's next. (Reptiles and Raptors are always a big hit.) The education staff does a great job of keeping them engaged with hands-on activities and dramatic lessons that'll last a lifetime.

 I see a lean organization, doing a lot with a little. A tour of the vault reveals an impressive collection of 29,000 items that leaves you thinking, "I had no idea."  The building could handle another dozen full time employees, but instead, staff members wear a lot of different hats and just chip in wherever there's a need. Thanks to several years of fiscal restraint, we just retired the long-term debt and the Musuem's in a solid financial position.

Finally, I see people here who are passionate about their work. When you peek behind the scenes it's obvious they really, truly care. There's a tremendous effort to deliver a museum experience that's absolutely world-class, to raise the money needed to continue delivering that experience and to do what Don Kerr originally intended for this place... To responsibly teach and wildly excite.

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