Museum Job Spotlight: Cathy Hamaker
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My name is… Cathy Hamaker
The name of my museum is… Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
My job title is… Exhibit Developer
Give us a quick overview of your department/museum.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a huge collections-based museum focused on helping families learn together! We’re the largest children’s museum in the world. I’m one of two exhibit developers in a larger department we call “experience production.” Our museum has all kinds of exhibits, from science to humanities and permanent to travelers, so we’re very jack-of-all-trades in exhibit development.
What is your biggest accomplishment in your job? Biggest single accomplishment? I had to take over a large semi-permanent exhibit project from another developer halfway through the process. I knew absolutely zero about the subject matter, and had to get up to speed and start writing labels and prototyping interactives on a super-tight timeline. But it worked out, and I love the final product–that’s the real accomplishment, when you can go in a gallery you’ve just finished and think “hey, this is fun!” instead of “I am so sick of this topic…” 🙂
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s never boring! I love that I can be solving problems for an exhibit about the International Space Station one day, and brainstorming activities for an exhibit about comic book heroes the next. I’m a big nerd, and I get to spend my days talking about pop culture, science geekery, and cultural history with an incredibly talented group of people. Interactive development is probably my single most favorite thing I do. I love thinking about how things work, and figuring out how to make an interactive that’s interesting, challenging, and engaging for a wide range of ages and abilities.
Best advice you ever received from a museum professional.
Be ready to jump in and help out. Be flexible. The words “that’s not my job” shouldn’t ever be part of your vocabulary–museum exhibits, like theatrical productions, are always a huge team effort. Just because I’m the one writing the labels doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be pitching in to help paint/clean/schlep stuff around when we’re on a deadline.
What is one thing on your resume that makes you unique?
I worked in a game store selling board games, hobby stuff, puzzles, and fancy chess sets for 14 years before I shifted to this career. My love for games and puzzles has been a big help in thinking creatively about interactivity and engagement in museums.
Advice to the aspiring museum professional.
Be open to possibilities. Before I started this career I worked in sales and retail; while I was in my master’s program I worked at the local zoo as seasonal horticulture (ie: weeding for 8 hours a day;) while I was job hunting a did a lot of little contract evaluation gigs at local museums. None of those things was an ideal job for me, but all of them gave me tools to build on when this job came available. When you’re applying for stuff, be creative in describing how your current skill set can be applied to the job you want. It’s not just about being a curator or developer or educator, it’s about the spin you personally can put on that job that’ll make you stand out.
What specific skills enable you to succeed in your job?
Flexibility. Sense of humor. Good communications skills. I do a lot of strolling around to chat with other team members and make sure I’m constantly aware of the big picture on an exhibit project, so I can deliver what others need from me, and make sure everyone knows what I need from them when things start getting crazy.