Bunking Up Aboard the Ark

I’m no camper. The platform wedges that I wear religiously and the complete absence of sweatshirts from my wardrobe give me away. So you can imagine that I was a little uneasy about the prospect of spending a night “camping” at the Skirball with my seven-year-old daughter, Georgia, as an attendee at one of the first Skirball family sleepovers.

Noah's Ark Sleepover bed setup

With folk-art Noah’s Arks “sailing” above them, my daughter, Georgia (left), and her good friend Gillian (in sparkly hat) get ready to say good night at a Skirball family sleepover. You don’t have to rough it if sleeping bags aren’t your thing. Airbeds welcome!

More accurately, I was ambivalent about it. While the idea of shimmying into my jammies in a setting far, far more public than the comfort of my own home gave me the willies, I was genuinely excited to experience Noah’s Ark at the Skirball from the perspective of a nighttime inhabitant. As project director for Noah’s Ark, I’d been closely involved in bringing it to life, and I love it on a visceral level (insofar as one can feel that way about a museum space). The thought of taking part in a nocturnal Noah’s Ark experience with my own daughter, who came into this world as the project itself was being born, was a thrilling prospect.

I’ll confess that Georgia and I didn’t start off as model campers. Soon after checking in, we trundled off to choose our sleeping quarters on the ark along with other families. Spotting what we agreed was the perfect spot—a cozy corner beneath a display of Skirball folk-art ark vessels from around the world—we unpacked our gear and set up camp. Minutes after I’d inflated our air mattress (yes, of course I brought one), Georgia happily flopped back onto it, shouting, “This is the life!” But then, with panic and dismay, I watched our bed deflate pitifully… with Georgia still lying on top. We were forced to sleep directly on the gallery’s wooden floorboards that night, which gave me a new understanding of the term Not a happy camper (though my daughter slept like a baby).

That minor wrinkle aside, what Georgia and I experienced together at our first Skirball sleepover and at others we’ve attended since—as mother and daughter, and as part of the larger group of participating parents and kids—turned out to be pretty magical. Here are some of the things I’ve loved about sleeping over at the Skirball:

  • You get to explore the galleries after dark, with only fellow overnighters present. Everything in a museum seems cooler at night. If as a child you read and loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as I did, the experience will probably satisfy a longstanding urge for you as it did for me. Time is always spent aboard Noah’s Ark but, depending how family-friendly the subject matter is, you also get after-hours access to changing exhibitions we present, like Houdini: Art and Magic or Monsters and Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books.

    Noah's owls

    Handcrafted from carved wood, Japanese fans, industrial steel, coil, and welded steel, these owls watched over me and Georgia while we slept. Photo by Mitch Maher.

  • You sleep right inside Noah’s Ark! The fresh perspective you gain is amazing. You see the galleries, literally, from a new vantage point. I will never again look at the wooden toy ark (which I bunked up against) or the owls with red wings made from fans (the first things I saw when I woke up in the morning) in the same way.
  • You do a lot more than just sleep. There are always cool art projects to do—and sometimes a performance to enjoy—that relate thematically to each particular sleepover. Together Georgia and I have decorated terracotta pots and filled them with seedlings, sculpted animals out of clay, made our own magic boxes from old cigar boxes, and learned secret tricks from a Magic Castle performer, Micah Cover, who had us in stitches with his jokes.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the sleepovers provide quality, laid-back, hanging-out time, sans television and computers—at dinner in the amphitheater under the stars, inside the galleries during exploration time, over milk and cookies, during late-night storytelling, and over breakfast. Kids end up playing with other kids they’ve just met, adults exchange phone numbers, and many people, we’ve been told, form new friendships as a result of their Skirball sleepover experience.


Sleepover art project

When the exhibition Houdini: Art and Magic was on view last year, the family sleepover took on a magic theme. The night’s art project was to repurpose old cigar boxes and create magic kits in which to store tricks and other goodies. In this snapshot, Georgia and Gillian don glasses that create a mesmerizing rainbow effect.

Despite my initial trepidations, Georgia and I have become Skirball sleepover regulars—now fully equipped with a monster-sized, indestructible air mattress, a down comforter, and five pillows, which all help to approximate my husband’s and my bed at home. We’ll be back again and again, I am sure—with me in my inappropriate shoes—until Georgia becomes a pre-teen and no longer wants to bunk up with her old mom.

Our next sleepover just sold out! But not to worry: another overnight getaway at the Skirball is scheduled for July. Watch out for details on our website, or sign up today to receive e-blasts about sleepovers and other family programs.

Boys setup camp at the Noah's Ark sleepover

These boys set up camp near the plush puppets. Photo by Peter Turman.

Posted in For Families, Museum, Noah's Ark, Recommendations and tagged , , , , .

About Sheri Bernstein

Sheri Bernstein is Vice President and Director of Education at the Skirball, where she oversees all programs for school, teacher, and family audiences and the daily workings of Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. She grew up in San Diego, though because of her pale complexion (which earned her the unfortunate childhood nickname of Ghost), people always figured she was a New Yorker. An only child herself, Sheri is the mother of an only child, whom she and her husband, Peter, are trying to rear. An art historian by training, Sheri often pinches herself that she lucked into her amazing job at the Skirball, where she manages a ridiculously great team of educators and has not had one boring workday in eleven years here.

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