|On her way to a job at the American Museum of Natural History, Geralyn Abinader took a detour to Hollywood.
"I went to New York University's film school, and then I went out to Los Angeles to try to find work in the movie business. It was very discouraging. I spent several years doing just about everything you can do: I was a caterer, providing meals for cast and crew on location shoots; I was a production assistant; I was a production manager; I did location scouting. I worked on educational and documentary films, which I preferred to commercial movies anyway. I worked on music videos. But the truth is, it's very hard for women to get creative jobs in Hollywood. It got to the point that I didn't want to work in the film or television business anymore."
Instead she went to graduate school and then taught art in a high school for a while. In addition to art, an interest was science. "I've always been drawn to science, including ways to teach science. In fact, when I was a teenager, I used to sit for hours on end watching children's educational programs on public television--The Electric Company, The Big Blue Marble, the ones that dealt with science especially. My brothers and sisters would laugh at me and ask, "Why are you watching children's shows?' And I would say, "Because I want to see how they do it.'"
Geralyn left Hollywood and returned to New York, where she had gone to college. She did not have a job or even any idea of what she wanted to do. "Out of desperation I took a temporary job at AMNH, replacing someone on maternity leave." She did not see it as a career move, just as a way to pay the rent. That temporary job led to another one, assisting the curator of an exhibit on Northwest Coast Indians. "We were planning a gigantic opening ceremony featuring a reenactment of the potlatch ceremony with people in traditional regalia. And I said, We have to videotape this.'"
Geralyn worked with a museum crew to make a video that was edited and ready to be played at the exhibit within a week. People liked it so much that she was soon asked to make videos for other departments and events even though she was still officially a secretary without a permanent assignment.
"I was what they called a floater, doing fill-in office work in different departments. One day someone in the Exhibition Department said, 'I need a video made, so can Geralyn float over here and make a video?' So instead of a floating secretary, I was now a floating video maker."
Eventually, she got a permanent position and a title: video producer. Her job involves working with exhibit designers and curators to determine what visual media will be used and where, and then getting it all made. We talked to Geralyn while she fielded phone calls asking her to solve large and small problems related to two or three different projects.
"It's been very exciting. I went with an AMNH film crew to the Dzanga-Sangha Conservation Project, in the Central African Republic, on which the rain
forest diorama is based. We documented the work there and did a lot of interviews."
Geralyn has also made a documentary about anthropologist Margaret Mead for an exhibit about her work at AMNH, produced videos on amber artisans in St. Petersburg, Russia, and with AMNH staff produced several videos on endangered species for the Endangered! exhibit. She recently finished work on the videos for the Hall of Biodiversity.
"Today, video and other visual media, such as computer interactives, are used in museums to inform and enhance the educational experience, to invite visitors into an exhibit or give them a change of pace, and to show people and things that could not otherwise be shown within the walls of a museum."
In addition to her work on the Hall of Biodiversity, Geralyn is developing visual material for an exhibit on infectious diseases that is still in the planning stage. "For me, this is a great job because I love science, I love art, I love theater, I love film--and my work brings it all together. I just wish I could work on one exhibit at a time, that's all," she said, and then her phone rang again.
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