The last day to respond to the Museos Unite salary survey will be this coming Sunday, 14 February. If you haven't chimed in yet, please go here and make your voice heard. Pass the link on to colleagues, friends, grad school buddies: anyone you know who works in the museum field! Although we haven't finished collecting or compiling the data, we've already observed some interesting trends which we're looking forward to sharing.
Two weeks ago we called on the AAM to lobby to ensure that museums and other nonprofits were not left out of the Congressional jobs bill. Later that day the AAM send out an advocacy update outlining their lobbying efforts in relation to several issues relevant to museums, particularly President Obama's FY2011 budget. The next day the update focused on the need to include zoos and aquariums in the jobs bill. This had nothing to do with us (does anyone from the AAM even read this blog? Leave us a comment if you do!) but it is still encouraging. While these are not the actions we urged the AAM to consider they are nonetheless vital. Funding for various bodies that are integral to the life of US museums (such as the IMLS, the NEA, and the National Park Service) needs to be continued. Tax credits for small businesses who provide their employees with health insurance should be extended to small nonprofits. The IMLS needs to be reauthorized.
But do these things need to be done first? The impression I continue to get, from the words of people I speak with and the actions of bodies like the AAM, is that one day, when the economy is better and when museums are masters at earning revenue, then we will worry about fair salaries. That it's pointless to talk about it now, because how can we ensure fair salaries if we can't pay the low salaries we already have? The result is that no one is willing to talk about what constitutes a good salary or a poor salary. Is there an element of shame in acknowledging that you are underpaid (there should not be!), or in acknowledging that you are underpaying your employees? And is that shame so great that we're willing to put off an uncomfortable conversation indefinitely? There is never going to be a point where museums are incredibly wealthy, with all the outside funding and earned revenue they require to offer every program they want. Museums are always going to need to make hard decisions about where to allocate their funds. If museos don't assert themselves then they will be left out of those allocations every time.
This is evolving into another post and another topic altogether. What I'm trying to say is that museum salaries are a part and parcel of the overall conversation about museum solvency. We can't resolve the funding problem, or the issues about how museums are perceived in society, or the various ways museums can turn a profit, without questioning museum salaries. These are interrelated issues, and focusing exclusively on certain elements will lead to superficial solutions. If we wait until every other problem facing museums sorts itself out it will be too late for everyone reading this blog. You will be long retired (if you can afford to retire) or deceased. We have to stop putting off this conversation for a sunnier day. We need to have it soon.
5 years ago