Today — day four — the National Zoo and the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens! Do not let that exclamation mark fool you, today I am exhausted. Between the 8 AM call time, the sun, and the walking, I ‘processed’ the day by coming home and taking a nap!
Our 8AM zoo tour was well worth it because, for me, this was probably a once in a lifetime experience. Today, we got a behind the scenes tour of the zoo’s animal hospital! (Yes, the zoo has an animal hospital.) The little experience I’ve have had with living collections has shown me that I don’t really have what it takes to work permanently with a living collection…I get waay to attached. At a museum I previously worked at I clearly remember an animal handler arriving along with the animals told me “do not get attached” and “do not name the animals”. Me, with a confused look upon my face, had to break it to the handler, we’ve already named them, I am already attached. So probably no future career in a zoo for me.
While I many not have seen very many animals during this visit to the zoo, I did see first-hand that zoos have very interesting, multifaceted stories to tell, and each aspect of the story needs to be weighed against one another to kind of decide what is story is going to be presented to the visiting public. This idea, that you can’t/shouldn’t tell visitors every single detail about every single story sits a little uneasy with me. In my professional life I typically interact with visitors in person and in small settings, so I approach this from a very different point of view. When you have less direct control and less opportunity to answer questions, the story and details you include need to be weighed. Visitors may get lost in the details, and the overall story or call to action will probably get lost.
The second part of the afternoon was spent at the Hillwood Museum and gardens, with a historic home full of decorative arts harking back to a bygone era and meticulously manicured gardens, Hillwood was like a breath of fresh air from the morning at the zoo where everything felt very “real” and kind of heavy.
Although geographically close to each other, the Hillwood Museum and National Zoo could not be further apart, but both institutions are still working to make sure visitors have that ‘aha!’ moment. To tell a story, and show the visitor why they should care, how what the particular institutions are working to do/preserve/conserve is relevant to them.