Job Envy: Doug Nickrent
Senior Exhibit Designer, PGAV Destinations
For most people, a trip to Kennedy Space Center, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation or NASA is an out-of-the-ordinary adventure. But, for Doug Nickrent, it’s just part of being on the job. As the senior exhibit designer for STL-based PGAV Destinations, he spends his days designing interpretive exhibits for cultural institutions, museums, zoos and more. The biggest hazard of the job? Finding his way back to reality from the fantasy worlds he creates.
How He Got Into the Biz During and after college, I worked in theater, doing lighting and set design/fabrication. Soon, I found myself doing “corporate theater” and looking for ways to expand into other areas. Exhibit design and fabrication was a natural extension of that work. My first interpretive exhibits project was for a tugboat that toured the Mississippi for the Corps of Engineers.
Education/Training I have a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture. I also did a lot of technical theater work in college.
Best Work Day Ever May 31-June 1, 2011. I was with a video crew documenting the rollout of the space shuttle Atlantis in preparation for the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program. We had incredible access and actually were on the launch pad with Atlantis for a good bit of the morning. For a guy who grew up with Apollo and has followed the space program all his life…well, words fail me.
Why His Job Rocks I truly learn something new every day. Over the years, I’ve done projects about amphibians and sea lions, Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, Niagara Falls and the space program. I’ve worked with scientists, generals, nuns, animal trainers and astronauts. I’m a curious person, and this job satisfies that.
Typical Day I’m involved in projects for aquariums, zoos, children’s museums, theme parks and more, so my days might be spent discussing a construction detail with a fabricator or brainstorming concepts for a new attraction. I spend a good deal of time in front of a computer, communicating, researching, writing and drawing. I do a lot of work digitally, and often build 3D models of ideas. There is travel involved—I have been as far away as Hong Kong—but the vast majority of my projects have been here in the US.
Proudest Moment Most of the work we do is experienced by people who are spending their leisure time, a truly precious commodity. We work to make it time well spent. If we can impart a sense of wonder or fascination, we can help an individual have a great day, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Best Job Perk Research trips. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a baby elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo. I’ve stood in the middle of a bison herd with a Sioux rancher for a project at the Brookfield Zoo, and I’ve been inside lead mines in southern Missouri, two miles underground, for an exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center. A couple of years ago, I even had the chance to ride in a prototype Mars exploration vehicle during a NASA press event.
Goals for the Future To keep the projects coming. Hopefully, no one will notice how much fun I have—my fear is somebody will catch on and put me to work!
Photo credit: By Attilio D’Agostino