Thoughts on the Curator Position

In the New England Museum Association posting for this position, we have written “This is not a camp counselor job”. A reader of the posting asked a couple follow up questions that have motivated me to write this reflection.

In presenting this opportunity we actually go out of our way to speak about what many might consider the less desirable aspects of the position. The last thing we want to do is attack and hire someone who then leaves after a few weeks or is very unhappy. Summer internships, which this really is, are different from jobs. The hiring organization really has more obligation to provide a learning experience. The successful applicant should end the summer not just with cash but with a feeling of having accomplished something and broadened their skill set.

Evaluating potential employees in any situation is always fraught with pitfalls. The most obvious one is that the employer is trying to sell something and the applicant is trying to sell themselves! Even in business hiring, I always tried to lessen this problem by not asking death questions like “what was your greatest failure”. I wanted to put the applicant at ease. I wanted them to know that we were trying to help them showcase their strengths. Especially in this intern hiring, we really want applicants to look seriously at the position and hopefully self select as to weather it fits their strengths and desires. My line always is that if we are honest on our side, maybe bruitly  honest, there is a good chance the applicant will act in their own best interest and only pursue positions that seem to match their strengths. Bottom line, help applicants self select.

Back to is this “a camp counselor job”. Of course it is. We don’t say it is not a painting job or not a preaching situation. We are trying to fine toon what it is. Clearly, and especially in the time of Covid, you are living 24/7 with 150 children. You get one day off a week and depending on the Covid situation, heavy guilt may be placed on you to not stray too far from the bubble.

I’ll switch gears and talk a little about the great sides of the opportunity. Most people who spend any time at Kawanhee come away with the feeling “that community really has something going for it”. Once you and we are serious about your pursuing this opportunity, we will encourage you to talk to previous curators and this is a good topic for you to ask them to opine on. I call it the secret sauce. The most obvious manifestation of it is, unlike other camps, most of our counselors are returnees.

It is hard to image that someone who loves dining out, city life and hates nature and exercise will find fulfillment in a boys camp in Maine. The list of activates that you can get involved in is huge but does not include shopping. Camp is an intense interpersonal environment. Campers are always on the lookout for adults to engage with. Each of us has our own tricks for gaining a little much needed alone time. Some hide in our rooms, some walk, some boat, some swim, some close the office door.

A normal lodge councilor at Kawanhee spends 50% of his energy taking care of his lodge campers, 30% of his energy teaching in an activity, like sailing or nature, and say 20% on other random activities. The curator right off the bat does not have that 50% lodge. In the last years there has been an effort to have the curator and other non-lodge councilors, pick a lodge, eat with them and generally, were appropriate, enter into their lives. The curators have generally reported that this is a plus. Allows them to feel much more connected to campers without having to sleep in their lodge!

Many curators have spent less than 30% of their time running history as an activity parallel with baseball. Having history be an activity like sailing is aspirational for us. It will happen. But it will take a curator with the right interests. It is not something we have pushed hard to have curators do. We support them in trying things but don’t try to put square pegs into round holes.

So my off the cuff math says that the curator has very different responsibility from a lodge counselor. They are organizing materials, greeting guests, researching, etc. That is what we mean when we write this is not a camp counselor job. But it sure is not a lawn care position either!