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Friday, Jun 24, 2011 - Canvassed | Art & culture

Photo finish

The Museum Marathoners have just about reached the finish line

By Michael Misselwitz
air_space01 Maren Dougherty and Heather Hart
- Photo by Michael Misselwitz

For nearly 26 days and 26 nights, colleagues Maren Dougherty and Heather Hart have not left Balboa Park.

In their efforts as members of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, the duo organized the Museum Marathon, a nearly month-long sleepover in 18 different cultural institutions throughout the park. And, for the first time in history, the institutions opened after-hours to the two outsiders, allowing them to mingle with the mannequins and sleep nearby some of the museums’ most prized exhibits.

“It’s been a total whirlwind,” Hart said. “It’s different than, say, visitors who just came to the park for 26 days in a row. We’ve had a much more intimate experience.”

To give a sense of just how intimate it’s been, Dougherty and Hart have spent nights cavorting among the combat aircraft of the Air and Space Museum, in solitude with the wafting aromas of the Japanese Friendship Garden, and staying up late to the nocturnal howls of the San Diego Zoo. They’ve toured behind the screen at the IMAX theater, and they’ve brushed their teeth in the basement facilities of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

“There have been a lot of unexpected elements,” Hart said. “The way we planned the Marathon wasn’t the way it turned out at all.”

“Really one of the biggest things we’ve taken away from this has been from the people who work for these institutions and are so passionate about their work.” Dougherty added. “There’s been great value in spending those late nights talking to people and learning about their jobs. That was a major unexpected perk.”

But life in the park has had unexpected challenges as well, the duo admits. Ben Stiller didn’t have to think about keeping clean in his Night at the Museum, but maintaining quality of life becomes an issue when the scope reaches, say, 26.2 days.

“There have been challenges in terms of, for instance, showering.” Hart laughed. “A lot of museums actually have showers for exhibit staff, but last night the shower we’ve been using quit working.”

Challenges have also manifested in the demands of a strict schedule. Meet and greets with media and keeping up their day jobs has made enjoying Balboa Park’s vast array of offerings a bit more difficult than expected.

“We are still running on Marathon time, we have a tendency to be a bit late sometimes.” Dougherty said. “Twenty-six days seems like a long time, but we had to check ourselves and slow down to really have a quality experience and do what we want to do.”

All things considered, Dougherty and Hart said the experience has been fun and memory-making, allowing the 26 days to pass without too much hardship.

“People ask us how we’re still smiling after all this and if it’s a real smile,” Dougherty said. “It really is.”

“There’s no reason not to be happy,” Hart added. “It’s not like we're in some concentration camp here. There’s tons to do and the park is huge and beautiful. We are so lucky to have been able to help the park, and to have had seen it in ways no one else does. It will be nice to go home but I wouldn’t take anything back.”

The Museum Marathon finish line is less than a day away. What are the duo’s immediate plans upon the end of this adventure? Take a day off work, wear pajamas and not leave their beds until they damn well please.