In October of 2015, Creationist Ken Ham and his colleagues decided to throw a month-long Halloween event at the Creation Museum. (Minus the demons and witchcraft.) There would even be a life-sized creature on hand to take pictures with the kids while museum staffers would be on hand to answer questions about what the Bible really says about extraterrestrials.
In a blog post about the event, Answers in Genesis highlighted the work of Ariella Duran, who had been roped into being the human inside that life-sized alien costume.
Neila is “alien” spelled backwards, and it is the name given to the alien puppet by [puppeteer] Retha [Elger] with some input from Neila’s human operator, Ariella Duran, during the early stages of costume fittings. The pair were working together to get the costume looking just right when they decided that Neila must be a distant cousin of the planetarium’s alien, Jimi (stands for “just in my imagination”) because they are both green, a little chubby, and cyclopean.
Ariella had just joined the Creation Museum guest services staff about one month before she found herself volunteering to be the official costume-wearer at the museum.
Hey, it’s a job.
Duran ended up working for Answers in Genesis for just over two years in “every single existing department.” She served as “Museum Host,” which included the ticket counter, petting zoo, housekeeping, retail shop, and food services. She later became a Temporary Floor Coordinator and Point of Sale and later worked in Human Resources.
The point is she did a hell of a lot. And then for a variety of reasons that are both professional and personal, she left in 2017.
Now, she’s telling the world what she endured during those years working for Ken Ham… and it’s disturbing.
The short version of the story is that she was on salary and claims Ham took advantage of that by overworking her and her colleagues far beyond what anyone ought to expect from an employee.
The longer version gives details of how the “toxic culture of AiG goes all the way to Ken.” Duran says she made all of this clear to AiG’s board members after she left — she’s not the only one who’s spoken to them about it, either — but she’s seen no signs of change. (Which, let’s face it, is the hallmark of Creationists.) That’s why she’s posting about it now.
Like this passage about the “toxic” workplace:
During my time there I witnessed rank partiality and favoritism, nepotism, inconsistent or non-existent communication, bullying, and spiritual abuse — as in, guilt is used as a motivator because AiG is “doing the Lord’s work, and who are you to stand in the way of that?” When people proactively try to speak up to change the culture and pace for the better, staff meetings emphasizing “submission to authority” ensue or, in some cases, people are pushed/bullied out of the organization.
… Ken has built his legacy on the bones of employees he has knowingly driven into the ground…
How does he overwork his staff?
… AiG is chronically short-staffed, leading to people sacrificing a work-life balance while being paid ministry pay, notoriously much lower than the value of equivalent jobs in other companies. People need either time or money in return for employment, and those who come to AiG knowing they will be on lower pay are usually under such high work expectations that many continue to work while scheduled to be off (e.g. weekends, holidays) or on vacation, instead of focusing on their families or regular lives. The turnover rate is astronomical, which they really can’t afford considering that people who agree with their statement of faith are already a niche group.
Duran says she and others stayed in their jobs, despite all those problems, because they really believed in AiG’s mission. In some ways, it’s like working for a start-up. You’re expected to work long hours and dedicate your whole life to one project because your whole team is working on something much bigger than yourselves. But that mentality also leads to burnout.
Take, for example, a promotion AiG ran in 2016 called “40 Days and 40 Nights.” It was a way to hype up the opening of Ark Encounter by opening both parks far beyond their normal hours. Ark Encounter would be open until midnight every day. The Creation Museum would be open until 9:00 p.m.
The Creation Museum website jokingly said, “Good thing there won’t be any school nights all summer long” But the salaried staff at the museum didn’t get paid overtime for this promotion, according to Duran.
… in 2016 I began sleeping in my SUV at the Ark property, or spending the night in the Creation Museum basement (the now-demolished Last Adam theater), or sleeping at a friend’s house near work. Due to the long hours and lack of finances (salary, no overtime pay) I was unable to look for new housing nor could I have afforded the usual down payment required for an apartment… I couldn’t ask friends for help because they were almost as burnt out as I was, since they too were participating in 40 Days/40 Nights.
Duran was ready to quit around this time, but she feared that doing so would place an even greater burden on her two co-workers. She didn’t want to do that to them.
… I wanted to “get through the worst of it” to support them. Unfortunately at AiG, “the worst of it” is often just a small step up from what is considered “normal”, putting constant intense pressure on employees year-round, leaving no margin for emergencies or truly urgent seasons.
During all this, she was dealing with the Roommate from Hell and an abusive church. Sitting on the top of the Ark, alone, one night, Duran says, “I realized I could have walked off the top of the Ark and my absence would not have been noticed for days.”
She wasn’t suicidal. Just “tired and empty.”
She moved out. And then she began working in Human Resources, which she was excited about since she knew most of the staffers at AiG, and many of them trusted her with their own complaints. She hoped her authority could help lead to structural changes for everyone.
But because she was a jill-of-all-trades at this point, Ken Ham said told her managers she was “eligible to be pulled from my HR job” anytime they needed help elsewhere in his twin attractions, which happens a lot during the busy seasons in the spring and fall. So Duran set some ground rules based on what she had gone through in the past.
She wanted 24 hours advance warning if she had to work somewhere else. She wanted to make sure her regular schedule could accommodate the change. She wanted the right to say yes or no. Simple requests, really.
One day, she was scheduled to work in an air-conditioned building in the morning, so she dressed appropriate, but because of the low staffing, she was told to run the lemonade stand at the Creation Museum. Outdoors. In the heat. Without much notice, much less 24 hours.
… The job required me to stand on asphalt in almost direct sun from 10 am to 2 pm…
I submitted to that. I went out there, in clothes that were too hot, without the proper amount of food that I usually eat, to fill the role just like a seasonal employee would…
… I had been constantly drinking water trying to stop overheating, and because I was so hot I was becoming discombobulated, while not knowing that drinking that much water on an empty stomach causes nausea.
I was finally relieved and proceeded to be extremely sick, both hot and cold at once and trying to cool down and warm up from my body going into shock, but I couldn’t throw up because I had nothing to throw up. I tried to get to my office where I could essentially “break down” in peace without bothering anyone, but right at my office door I ran into Ken Ham, Mark Looy, Officer Joe Niemeyer, and some others. They attempted to joke with me but I was crying, so they asked what was wrong. I told them I’d been scheduled for an indoor workshop but had been told to work in the heat out at the lemonade stand, and now I was going to be sick.
So if anyone doubts whether Ken knows the consequences of his arbitrary decisions, he does.
She soon discussed with her manager transferring to another department, but the one she was most qualified for was “closed” to her, she says, because she’s a woman.
Duran eventually left her job when a family member’s sickness gave her reason enough to move home. She never went back. She’s speaking out now because “SILENCE PROLONGS ABUSE” and “It’s sin, and I’m calling it for what it is.”
In other words, she’s still a believer. But she doesn’t want her colleagues to keep going through what she had to go through.
A request for comment from AiG and Duran herself were not immediately returned.
(Featured image via Facebook)