One of my favorite parts of my job as Visitor Services Director at the Skirball is to talk with our guests and to hear their stories. I’ve always been a seeker of stories. I grew up in a big family with lots of interesting characters sharing their tales. I caught the journalism bug early, at Floyd Central High School in New Albany, Indiana, where I preferred feature assignments to the news, because that’s where you get the real scoops. Even now, I think, What’s his/her/their story?—sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud to others—when I meet someone. I’m always looking for one’s unique experience and perspective in order to make a connection.
With 2011 about to wrap up, I think back to all the fascinating people I’ve come across and the things I’ve had the chance to talk with them about.
There was the young father who came to visit Noah’s Ark at the Skirball with his wife and three children. When I asked if he’d ever visited before, he revealed that he hadn’t been to the Skirball since his prom was held here ten years ago. (I kick myself that I didn’t ask if his wife was his date that night!). Kindergarteners, meanwhile, love to tell me that Noah’s Ark is their “favorite place.” But who said Noah’s Ark is just for kids? I met a gentleman who brought his mother and their extended family–eighteen in total hailing from four generations–to celebrate her ninetieth birthday!
I was also pleased to know a little girl who got to meet her hero here at the Skirball. That happened in April, when we welcomed eleven-year-old Olivia Bouler to talk about her book, Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf, and the $200,000 she has raised to aid birds impacted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (It was humbling to meet an eleven-year-old who was actually changing the world!) The young visitor’s grandparents told me how much their granddaughter looked up to Olivia, someone so different from the usual idols, like Britney Spears or the Twilight characters. Knowing that a truly admirable little girl is another little girl’s role model led to one of those “the-world-is-going-to-be-OK” moments for me.
When we presented the exhibition inspired by the famed The 1000 Journals Project, we invited guests to add art and musings to dozens of journals on display. One day a preteen told me that she had recognized her friend’s entry in the same journal she was working in. She didn’t even know that her friend had visited! I told her how completely random that was, since the journals were regularly rotated. She was thrilled that she found her friend’s work, and she excitedly told me all about it.
Peter Yarrow—of Peter, Paul and Mary fame—visited us in November. He was at the Skirball to sing and read his Puff, the Magic Dragon book. Although his performance was geared to families with young children, we had all generations in attendance. In the book-signing line, I spoke with one dad who proudly showed me snapshots of his two kids dancing on stage and singing with Peter. Apparently his son knew the words to “Leaving on a Jet Plane” better than he did! Behind him, I chatted with two star-struck seniors who brought their vintage Peter, Paul and Mary songbook for Peter to sign.
In short, it is truly never a dull moment when I get to meet and connect with such a diverse group of people. I look forward to hearing your story when you come to visit!