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In the pause: Unlocking the stories and secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Museum Hack

Abraham Lincoln and Russian Tsar Peter the Great were both virtuosos of which musical instrument? Wait, what? They were musicians? Indeed, they were.

I’ll give you a hint. Actually, I’ll give you three hints:

  • It fits in the palm of your hand.
  • It’s (at least) 2500 years old.
  • It’s often called “the window to the soul” because it only makes a sound when held to the player’s mouth.

Nothin’, huh? Don’t worry. I had no idea and neither did any of the nine people on my Museum Hack tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday night.

Sage, a Shamanic historian, offered our group of curiosity seekers this little-known slice of history as a special expert guest on our tour. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to provide a sonic healing and meditation for us while playing….the jaw harp, a minute cousin of the harmonica. (The jaw harp is not currently on display and we were only able to see and experience its mystical sound because Museum Hack had booked Sage as the tour’s special guest presenter.)

Why I’m thrilled to discover Museum Hack
These are the kinds of secrets and surprises that unfold around every corner of a Museum Hack tour. Their fun-loving guides reveal the behind-the-scenes stories, histories, and antics of some of the most famous and most obscure pieces of art at the finest museums in the country.

But I live within walking distance to the Met and I go there all the time. Did I really need to take a tour? I could have wandered through the museum reading placards and listening to pre-recorded generic audio tours on my phone. Or I could stand underneath a ceremonial lodge roof from Papua New Guinea and have a live master storyteller describe the object of spiritual power offered to an 11-year-old boy during his rite of passage celebration that happened in these lodges. Not a difficult choice for me. I’m going with the master storyteller and that ceremonial roof. Every. Single. Time.

The tour was perfect for a museum lover like me, and it would be equally entertaining for anyone who’s never even set foot in a museum. Museum Hack is all about making art and museums accessible and intriguing to everyone.

Museum Hack’s VIP Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I spent three hours at the Met wowed and inspired by Evan and Dustin, the two main tour guides for my group. Their senses of humor were matched only by the depth of their wild, weird, and wonder-filled knowledge of art and the history of the Met’s fledgling beginning. They led us through the medieval paintings of Europe and the tribal sculptures of Africa, on to the American Wing’s jumbled collection of ordinary and extraordinary, and then to the vibrant deity-depicting silks of Nepal and Tibet. Along the way, they dropped juicy tidbits about the art, the museum’s architecture, and the motley cast of characters who set out to create the Louvre of the U.S. starting with only one very plain and not-quite-finished Roman sarcophagus that no other museum in the world wanted. (It’s still on display in an inconspicuous corner and provides further proof that yes, greatness can be achieved even from the humblest of beginnings. Met, baby, you’ve come a looooooong way.)

Evan and Dustin asked for requests, though our group opted to let them lead the way to their favorite odd and fantastical pieces. Actually, I take that back. There was one request to see a toaster, mostly because we thought there was no way the Met had a toaster anywhere in its collection. We were wrong; they do indeed have a toaster. Actually, they have three toasters, nestled in among the mummies, Marie Antoinette’s standing desk with hidden chambers, and the true-to-life Chinese philosopher’s garden. The Met also happens to carry the distinction of being the largest baseball card collector in the world. And yes, they do have an art ambulance, a mobile unit fully-equipped to care for the art in the event that some visitor decides it would be fun to leave their own mark one of the pieces. (This is why even the Met has trouble having nice things!) Despite being an enormous fan of the Met, I never knew any of these things about this magnificent museum before I met Museum Hack.

One last surprise
After three hours of winding our way through this never-ending maze of priceless art, from Ancient Roman and Greek statues to Tiffany windows and truly everything in between, you’d think it would be impossible to still be in awe of anything. Rest assured, it’s not only possible, but highly probable, at the Met. The Temple of Dendur, complete with the entrance gate, is jaw-dropping. And you must go at night when it’s lit from the inside and you can imagine yourself as Indiana Jones, slowly making your way through the desert dunes to unlock the ancient magic and mysteries held in its walls.

And if just seeing the temple, complete with ancient hieroglyphs and modern day (tastefully inconspicuous) graffiti, wasn’t enough, Evan also shared its bizarre and unbelievable, but very true, backstory.

If you stand at the gate of the temple and look out the northwest windows, a high-rise apartment building looms above Central Park’s tree tops. Jackie Kennedy spent the later years of her life living in that building. Her bedroom looked out on the Met and she had a clear view of the Egyptian temple. It was a fitting view because she actually picked it out. As Evan said, “Yes, she went pyramid shopping. In Egypt.”

The Egyptian government had decided to dam up the Nile and when the Nile flooded, it submerged a series of sandstone temples. The U.N. refused to help save them so the Egyptian government contacted President Kennedy. In exchange for help to save the temples, Egypt gave one to the U.S. to be displayed in a museum. Jackie and her keen eyes went to Egypt and picked out the very temple that sits in the Met. To this day, it’s still referred to as Jackie’s nightlight.

As the museum staff informed us that the museum was closing, we reluctantly left the pyramid behind. Dustin turned to me and said, “To book this room for an event, it costs $150,000.” I smiled and said, “I think it’s totally worth it.”

And I meant it. After all, with the exception of a Museum Hack tour, when will you ever get the chance to party in a priceless Egyptian temple and hear the many secrets it has to tell?

About Museum Hack
Museum Hack offers tours and events in the finest museums in New York, D.C., Philly, San Francisco, L.A., and Chicago. To learn more and to purchase tickets, visit https://museumhack.com. They also have insanely entertaining Instagram and Twitter feeds, and send delightful emails that offer discounted tickets, giveaways, and a healthy dose of revelry.

*All photos taken by me or provided in the public domain by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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About Christa Avampato

I make a living in business and I make a life as a writer, artist, and yogi. I use my business and storytelling skills to build a better world. My first novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, will be published in the Fall of 2017 by Thumbkin Prints, a children's and YA imprint of Possibilities Publishing Co. My creative career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, and financial services. In every experience, I have used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, program, and events to help people live happier, healthier lives. A recovering multi-tasker, I am a proud alum of UPenn (BA) and the Darden School at UVA (MBA). When not in front of my Mac, I’m on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I am proud to New York City my home, and I've been called the happiest New Yorker by friends and strangers alike. They're right. Follow my adventures on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christanyc and Instagram at https://instagram.com/christarosenyc.

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This week, the many different threads at my job started to connect. It’s immensely gratifying to learn a large and complex technology platform, all for the sake of bringing more art, theater, music, and dance to more people. The vertical learning curve is becoming a little less vertical. Or maybe I am just becoming a more adept climber.

This idea of scaling walls reminded me of this sign I saw a few months ago when I was shoulder-deep in my job search, including interviewing for my current job. I wasn’t sure what would happen in my search, or what I would do about what would happen when it did happen. (This is how my mind works. It’s in a constant state of whirring.) What I needed was a sign, so I asked for one as I made my way up Fifth Avenue from the New York Public Library to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s when I saw this sign in the North Face storefront: Walls are meant for climbing. And about 30 minutes later, I heard from my now current job that I was moving on to the next and final round. Less than a week later, they offered me the job.

It’s this sense of optimism, asking the Universe for guidance, and then opening our eyes and ears to take in the wisdom around us that we have to take with us everywhere we go, into every situation that we face. We may not always be successful though our odds dramatically increase when we can look at a wall not as a roadblock, but as a reason to smile. I got this. You got this. We all got this.

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