Last updated: May 25, 2023
As a kid in Texas, I never went to a big summer camp.
The closest I came was probably the Boy Scouts.
After listening to an episode of This American Life about summer camps, I was inspired by the idea of teamwork, activities, and having fun in a special place with rituals and traditions.
Theme: Camp Metropolitan
I asked the Museum Hack team to help make a summer camp experience throughout some of my favorite galleries at the Met Museum for this private party – which also happened to be my 36th birthday.
Many people use their birthday as the one night of the year to become a party host. Because I host parties very often, I decided to use my birthday to push the limits.
At Museum Hack, we create amazing, custom experiences for our clients. This was an opportunity to go wild and show what our team can do. I wanted us to try new things and pull out all of the stops. I was determined to make this a night to remember for my friends and family.
Before the party, I made a page with short bios of everyone attending so that the icebreakers would be easier – and for people to connect with each other afterward.
Welcome to Camp
Everyone was instructed to meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 6:00pm SHARP on Friday night, 8 December 2017.
People got three things at check-in:
- A special magnetic name tag
- A custom curated list of “bunk-mates,” or specific guests that I wanted my friends to meet and potential topics for them to discuss
- Star stickers to give out to other guests who best represented “camp spirit”
Next, my friends were welcomed by our collection of “camp counselors.”
The counselors were tour guides from Museum Hack. Some dressed up, and many took on new personalities to embrace their roles and promote summer camp spirit at the museum.
2023 update: I’ve been thinking a lot more about adult summer camps! I wrote a list of summer camp activities on my other blog here.
Initiation, Hazing, and Rituals
All camps have rituals and visual cues that make them special. I decided that we needed some, and bandanas could do the trick.
*Note: Not everyone actually loved the bandanas. But it made me happy to see my friends wearing them, and it made it easier to tell who was in the party.
Activities at the Met Museum
Each of the Museum Hack tour guides had a very special activity that guests were privately invited to. We tried to model this after the Sleep No More experience, where guests are pulled away for personal encounters inside the museum.
Merit Badges and Spirit Stickers
After each of the special private tour activities, campers were given a “merit badge” to affix to their name tag.
Later in the night, we briefly visited the David Hockney exhibit, posing for a group photo in my favorite room…
… before ending the night under the Sistine Chapel for the Michelangelo exhibit.
When the museum closed at 9:00pm, we boarded private shuttle buses that were waiting outside.
They took us straight to Peter Tunney‘s art gallery, a huge space with fun art!
Lots more friends met us at the after-party.
At 10:30, I made a short speech…
In my speech, I told everyone:
“I moved to New York City for the great people. I love my friends here. My parents think I’m crazy, because we always lived far away from big towns. But this city allows me to do so much, including crazy things, like tonight. And I remembered that my father really likes marching bands…”
and then a surprise guest marched in: the Brooklyn United Marching Band drum line.
Hiring a drumline was the single best decision of the after-party. That, and tacos.
Video of Drumline Entrance
The drumline entrance was a big surprise.
For many people, this was a big highlight of the night.
It made me so happy to be dancing front-row to a drumline at my own birthday party, surrounded by my family and friends in a great space.
When Camp Ends
The idea of spending a night of summer camp in my favorite museum, with my favorite people, hosted by the best fucking renegade museum tour guides in the world – this is the best birthday gift I could get.
Thank you to everyone who helped make it a reality.
How Would You Describe My Party?
Afterwards, I asked my friends how they would describe the party. They said things like:
- “Gonzo renegade museum tour, followed by one surprise treat after another.”
- “A Wes Anderson Movie.”
- “Awesome gathering of cool and interesting people in an unlikely but obviously incredible venue.”
- “A magical, educational, informal rogue night at the Met Museum.”
This was the most ambitious party I’ve ever thrown, and I learned a lot.
What’s something interesting that caught your eye here? Let me know in the comments. Or what’s your favorite birthday party?
Thank you to Bailey for so much coordination in the weeks leading up, we couldn’t have done it without her help. Thank you to Zak R and Anna for rehearsing and organizing, all of the Museum Hack NYC guides and other staff involved, Peter Tunney for use of the gallery and Ethan for scheduling + logistics, Avi and Dustin for DJ’ing, our excellent photographers Dennis and Sam, Brooklyn United Marching Band for my favorite drum line, Nina Simon for making something in California called MuseumCamp even though this was TOTALLY different, Mike Smith for misc help, Tasia for the Arts and Crafts table, bartenders for proactively helping us all stay hydrated, and everyone who attended the birthday party rehearsal the week before.. And my parents and sister for traveling from Georgia and Colorado to NYC to celebrate with me.
- Nicole Restani: This is rad. Happy belated!!!
- Nagina Sethi Abdullah: Wow!! This looks like a huge success! No one will ever forget this! Love the camp theme and the after-party space!