The living quarters at the Museum of Science and Industry
This glassed-in model room at the Museum of Science and Industry will become one lucky winner’s office.


Now about that no-drinking rule . . .

When I first heard about the Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum contest—the winner of which will live in the MSI round-the-clock from October 20th to November 18th, blogging and tweeting about his or her experiences all the while for a stipend of $10,000 and a package of tech gadgetry, including a laptop and a camera—two things came to mind: E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the 1968 Newbery Medal–winning children’s book about an 11-year-old girl named Claudia Kincaid who runs away from home and hides out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her kid brother. And We Live in Public, Ondi Timoner’s 2009 Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning documentary about an Internet entrepreneur’s zany scheme to have 100 people live on camera in an underground bunker for 30 days, with their most intimate moments broadcast on the Web.

Hoping to get an idea of how MATM might resemble (and/or completely differ from) the above, I talked to the MSI’s chief marketing officer and the contest’s biggest advocate, Rob Gallas. “This is a human experiment,” Gallas says. “We’re thinking of this person as an ambassador—a mirror that will reflect all of the energy and really amazing things that go on here.” Like Claudia, the MATMer will have nearly unfettered access to the museum but, unlike Claudia, won’t have to sneak out to wash his or her clothes (the MSI will pick up the tab for laundry service). Like the WLIP crew, the MATMer will be expected to maintain an active online presence; unlike WLIP, he or she won’t have to use the toilet on camera. Below, answers to five big questions we put to Gallas about this project, which he calls the first of its kind:

1. Where will this person sleep?
“If you come to the MSI, you can see what will be this person’s office. Right now it has a bed, but we’re going to move that upstairs to a two-room suite that will be furnished as private quarters. He or she will have very comfortable private quarters and a very public office.”

2. What will this person eat?
“Twice a day he or she will eat in our cafeteria, which is catered by Sodexo—that’s breakfast and lunch. There will also be a stocked fridge in the living quarters, in case he or she wants, say, some cereal. For dinner, one night he might be invited to my house, one night to the president of the museum’s house, and we’ll be having area restaurants bring in food.”

3. If this person is 21, can he or she keep beer in the fridge?
“No alcohol or smoking. It’s just like an astronaut going into space or a sailor going off to sea. Well, a sailor probably wouldn’t have to limit his alcohol, so let’s think of it as going into space.”

4. What parts of the museum will be off-limits, and what will he or she get to see that the general public doesn’t?
“[As far as what’s off-limits] we haven’t come up with anything yet. Safety is a prime concern, but we haven’t thought of anything else. If he wants to go sleep next to the air-handling unit, we might ask why, but we’ll let him. [As for special access] there are lookouts on the roof. There’s an attic space above the big rotunda, where you can see all of the guy wires holding up the airplanes. We can get this person up in the tower of the U-505 submarine. But he’ll never really be alone. There are at least six security guards on duty all night.”

5. What about conjugal visits?
“That’s not in the plan but, then again, we’re going to play it as we go. If this person is in a relationship or is married and wants to bring the family over one night—there’s not a lot of room [in the private quarters], but we’re looking at this person as the most honored guest we’ve ever hosted here, and we’ve hosted the queen of England. We want this person to have fun.”

Think you’d like to spend a month living in the museum? Read more about the contest requirements and apply online. Gallas says the museum currently receives about 50 applications a day, but he expects that number to increase as next week’s deadline of August 11th nears.

  • Watch a trailer for the 1973 movie The Hideaways, based on the book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
  • Watch the trailer for We Live in Public.
  • Read more about what’s on display at the MSI.

Photographs: (thumbnail) Joe Ziolkowski/Museum of Science and Industry; J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry