Please welcome Lau Hodges, the latest victim of our all-too-infrequent series, Get a Job.
What do you do for a living?
I have the greatest job ever! I am the Director of Operations and Exhibitions at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. I will be the first to admit that the operations portion of my job is not the sexiest. Who can get that excited about HR, payroll and paying bills? But the exhibitions half of my job is amazing! It is the perfect blend of research, design, and hands-on building experience.
How’d you get started in this job, or what was your first job in the plant world?
In 2005 I left a job as a fashion buyer for a large department store which shall remain nameless. I was miserable there. At one point I saw my soul leave my body, give me the finger, get on the elevator and leave. That was the day I quit and decided that if I had to spend 40 hours a week somewhere (and not being independently wealthy I have to) I was going to make damn sure that it was somewhere I wanted to be.
I had always been a fan of the Conservatory and it seemed like a wonderful place to spend my time and energy. I showed up, resume in hand, and told them they should hire me. They said no. So I offered to work one day a week for free. They said yes. After a year and a half of volunteering I was hired on as the Assistant Guest Services Supervisor. At that time a woman by the name of Lisa Van Cleef was designing/building the exhibits at the Conservatory and while she was building an exhibit entitled Color: a Winter Carnival I was assigned to be her gopher. After the first day of working alongside Lisa I was hooked. I knew that creating exhibits with the purpose of getting people excited about plants was what I had to do with my life.
Over the next few years I volunteered myself at every possible opportunity to help with the exhibits and it paid off. In 2010 I opened my first exhibit (with a nod to Lisa) Chomp! 2.
What’s your typical day like?
I am about to hit my 6 year mark as a Conservatory of Flowers employee. To this date no two days have ever been the same.
What’s the coolest thing you get to do at work and what’s the nastiest, most boring, most soul-sucking awful thing you have to do at work?
Coolest: Every day I get to do something that causes me to stop and say, “Man, I have the coolest job in the world.” I spend a significant amount of every work day laughing with my co-workers. Be it driving a Stegosaurus model around Golden Gate Park staging promo shots, combing the Bay Area for vintage arcade games, or working with amazingly creative people like Amy Stewart to bring her book Wicked Plants to life.
Nastiest: Battling the creepy crawlies that can stowaway in any number of crevasses at the Conservatory. Also once, while wearing a sequined dress, I had to climb in the dumpster to shovel some nastiness out of it. Tons of international tourist were taking my photo….somewhere out there are a dozen or so people with a photo of ‘some crazy blond chick, in sequins, in a dumpster’.
Most boring: Probably paying bills. I mean, seriously, how exciting can you make that?
Most soul-sucking: Like I said earlier, I gave that job up. No matter how long my days are or how tired I am, I go home every night believing in what I am doing. It has made me a much happier person.
What’s the most common misconception about what you do?
Probably that it is glamorous. While getting to do the publicity and receiving compliments from people about the exhibit are wonderful the truth of the matter is that it can be a grueling lead up to opening day. I typically work 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day prior to an exhibit opening. Something always goes wrong, plans have to change mid-set-up, and I am often bruised, bloody and limping by the end of it. Not to mention that I am working within the parameters of a 134 year old greenhouse. Where there is electricity one day, there may not be the next, and oh my does the old girl leak. But I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about getting into your line of work?
Just keep showing up. NOTHING in the world can teach you about designing and building exhibits except for getting your hands dirty and doing it.
The next exhibit I am working on Butterflies & Blooms will be opening May 8th, 2013. I am currently working with the USDA to build an indoor butterfly garden (remember how I said coolest job ever?!) to teach the public about the importance of pollination. Come and check it out! For more information: www.conservatoryofflowers.org