By Christopher Collier, guest writer of the MAS
Welcome back to Get to Know Us, a Q/A series giving readers a personal look into the lives and careers of MAS staff members.
Today’s guest is Sharron Cornacchione, MAS Curator of Living Collections.
Cornacchione lived in Ontario, Canada until she was nine years old. She then moved to Ocala, Florida—a place she calls home to this day. After graduating from high school and briefly studying physical therapy at the College of Central Florida, it became clear that Cornacchione’s career would be one of twists and turns. It was a steamy summer in Ocala, and The United States Air Force Band had just come to town looking for a vocalist. Already a vocalist with singing experience around Ocala, Cornacchione auditioned for and got the gig.
Stationed in Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Cornacchione would go on to spend the next 14 years singing for the United States Air Force Band. After her singing career, Cornacchione spent 16 years working with animals at The Spaulding Nature Center at Robins Air Force Base. It was this adventure that would ultimately lead her to join the Museum of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
Today, Cornacchione is in charge of over 70 live animals as the Museum of Arts and Science’s Animal Curator. And while singing is no longer Cornacchione’s career, it’s still her passion. She is currently a member of several musical groups, including the Georgia Big Band.
Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?
A: My philosophy is [that] working with animals—it is never a dull moment. You have your set things that you have to do every day. For instance, I have a staff that does the primary feeding and cleaning. I do help with that, but we do programs. We’ll do live animal shows, [and] we do outreaches. I have to coordinate several family days throughout the year, like a birthday, a bug day, a reptile day, [and] a mammal day. Also, all of the health and well being of the animals—I have to make sure we have all of the proper permits that we need to house the animals that we house here. [There are] just a lot of different avenues with it.
Q: Is there a specific animal at the museum that you’ve seen guests gravitate towards?
A: We have a bird here, and her name is Georgia. She is a Moluccan Cockatoo, and the thing about Georgia is she’s been here before I got here. Her backstory is so unusual because she was purchased from the local PetsMart here three different times. People would buy her, take her home, [and] realize, ‘this is not what I want.’ The third young lady that purchased her actually donated her to the museum. I call her the ambassador because I don’t care where I go, people may not recognize my name, but they recognize my face and will say, ‘you’re the lady with that bird, Georgia!’
Q: Have you built any special connections with any animals at the museum?
A: It’s been three years ago now, but we decided to bring in a five-week-old, black and white ruffed lemur. His name is Zuri and we hand raised him at five weeks, and he’s three years old now. We had to take him home every night for the first nine months of his life. The bond that has developed between myself and him and some other staff members and him is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Q: What is your favorite part about working at a museum?
A: The fact that you can merge a planetarium, an art gallery, walking trails, a three-tier discovery house, a mini zoo full of animals—it’s a place that families can walk into, and every person can enjoy something with the museum.
Q: Which career path did you enjoy more—singing or working with animals?
A: I enjoyed the connection with music, but the animals and the connection that I can get with animals and watching children probably outweighs the singing. The connection between animals and children is just so pure. When you put an animal on that stage, and the child sees it for the first time, and the look on their face, and just—to me, that’s a win-win.
Q: Let’s talk about life outside of the museum. What is your favorite hobby outside of work?
A: I live on a little, five-acre farm called Heavenly Haven Farm. My animals expand out to my home, so I’ve got chickens, horses, and goats. It’s almost like my passion, my job, is also my hobby.
Q: What is your all-time favorite restaurant?
A: There was a restaurant many, many years ago in Clearwater, Florida, and it was called the Kapok Tree. I just loved it because it was such a unique restaurant. That was a family outing that we were fortunate to do every year. We would go to the beach for the day, and then we would go to the Kapok Tree for dinner. I remember it being such a beautiful place, and it was just a neat experience with my family and something that we did every year.
Q: What is your all-time favorite movie?
A: I'm starting to think I’m pretty nostalgic because I would have to say my all-time favorite movie would be “The Wizard of Oz.”
(*This interview has been condensed and edited)