Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Talking about Money – confronting a taboo

Fellow Museos --

The time has come to talk about money in a concrete way. The united museos in France and Canada understand the importance of fighting for fair wages (among other things).

I did a little digging on GuideStar.org after reading this great post at the Center for the Future of Museums. Basically, the mention of museums and finances led me to check out some 990 forms on Guide Star (requires free registration).

Let me just give everyone a quick summary of my findings. Keep in mind, this information is all free and available to the public, because museums are nonprofits.

I used NYC as an example of a large city with many large, famous museums.The spread will obviously look a bit different in other cities. (NB: these numbers are what they earned in 2007, taken from the 2008 990 forms which are the most recent available. These numbers came out before the economy tanked!)

The Director/President/head honcho salary at the following museums*:

Art: MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) - $2,111,000

Science: AMNH (American Museum of Natural History) - $732,000

History: MCNY (Museum of the City of New York) - $259,000

Wow. Check out the discrepancy between different types of museums. Granted, I am sure that if we mapped out visitor numbers, we would see the popularity of the museum is directly proportional to the amount the head honcho makes. And, of course, that makes sense. Analysis of the way people value different types of museums is a post for another day!

But, does looking at these figures make you want to SCREAM, readers? Does anyone feel surprised to know that a museum director in NYC can pull down $2 mil a year? Does that make you look at your own salary and make you question yourself? Some people might look at these figures and see a hope that one day they too could make millions doing what they love. Others wonder how many years it takes to get to the top. Clearly these positions are hard won, but there are real considerations: how many years can you viably spend working for a low salary in a major city center? How long can you support yourself? Your family? And then the fact remains that most people working in museums will never be directors, especially not directors of world renowned institutions. How can we make judgments about where to work and what we are worth if we only know these top salaries?

Here at Museos Unite, we want to gather some real, concrete data about salaries. If you have 30 seconds, please take this survey for us. It is completely anonymous. We ask you to tell us where your salary falls in a range, and where you are and what type of thing you do. We’d like to then take this data and compare it to what the head honchos are making, as well as what the museum is making a year.

“But there are websites like payscale.com and salary.com, Museos Unite,” you say. Oh, we are well aware. But the current numbers that are out there are derived from whatever people input into these big information engines, and it isn't always representative because it's subjective. It doesn't give an accurate picture of what real people are earning in a real market. For example, inputting Kirsten's salary into salary.com indicates that she's earning a salary in the bottom quartile for all museum educators in her area with her level of education and experience. Inputting the same information into payscale.com shows her to be a top earner. Entry level museos who are looking for an accurate idea of what they can make in today's market are not likely to find much usable information out on the internet.

Having concrete numbers gives us power, friends. I am sure you’d love to know if your salary is fair vs. your contemporaries in the field, but you don’t want to start a very private conversation with an acquaintance at a conference.

Well, here is your golden opportunity


*Note: This article highlights that a third of art museum directors have taken paycuts, including MOMA’s Glenn Lowry. He now makes a bit over $1 million, and is still the industry’s top earner.

Another note: There is also a great post from May 2008 at Young Museum Professionals with fabulous comments on the subject.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Victory in Canada, Changes in France

A big congratulations to the workers at Ottawa's Museum of Civilization and War! Striking workers have reached a tentative agreement with museum management, one they say helps protect them from contracting out and helps ensure better job security. This is a hard won victory that comes at the end of 85 days on the picket lines. We wish them all the best; they deserve every gain they've won.

The civil service workers' strike that shut many French museums continues, but press coverage and tourist reactions were so unfavorable that strikers have changed their tactics. Instead of barring access, strikers are preventing tourists from paying for admission. This will hopefully quiet disgruntled tourists and a foreign press that seems unable to focus on anything except spoiled vacations, while still making an economic impact.

Kat and I have both found the coverage of the French strikes incredibly disheartening. Granted, neither of us speaks French so most of the articles we have access to are in the travel section of English language newspapers. These have been exclusively of the "Poor Mr. Wu from Ohio, he saved his pennies for a nice Paris vacation and now he can't even see the Mona Lisa! What a waste!" variety. The idea that the reason for the strike (the halving of the civil service workforce) was a legitimate one has rarely been mentioned. The job that museos do has been repeatedly equated with the tourism industry. While there is no doubt that many museum visitors are in fact tourists, museos do more than just point tourists (or other visitors!) towards the restrooms or operate attractions to keep them entertained. This is a genuine profession that requires a high level of education and skill. Objects need to be preserved. Research needs to be performed. History needs to be told. A halved workforce will only do this half as well, and future generations deserve better. The strike should be equated with the preservation of jobs and thus the preservation of human history. If Mr. Wu from Ohio needs to spend more of his Paris vacation sipping coffee at a cafe and less time crowding in front of the Mona Lisa for that to happen, then so be it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Penny the Beaver" talks about STRIKES

I must give mad props to this woman for this video.
Way to point out how little concern government gives to museum workers vs.
transportation workers. Surely this says a lot about how
people value museums!

Video is from Museum Workers Website but also linked to in MuseumWorkers@Twitter.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Museos on Strike at 1/5th of France's Museums

The strike at the Museum of Civilization and War in Ottowa has continued for 75 days. Workers would like to bring in a neutral third party to negotiate a settlement, but the museum's management has refused. If you live in Canada or are a Canadian citizen living abroad you can sign a petition to the the museum's CEO Victor Rabinovitch urging him to reconsider.

Museum workers across the Atlantic have also taken to the picket lines. Approximately one-fifth of French museums are currently closed do to strike action. These include popular tourist destinations like the Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Chateau de Versailles, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Georges Pompidou Center. Workers are striking over a plan to replace only half of the retiring museum workforce over the coming years. The plan is to reduce the overall number of civil servants and does not merely affect museum workers, but cuts in the cultural sector could have dramatic consequences. These will alter the quality of what the museums can offer and how well they can preserve their collections, but culture minister Frederic Mitterrand seems uninterested in negotiation.

English language information is mostly limited to what tourist spots are open or closed on any given day, but here are several links:

Strike Spreads in France Over Museum Staff Cuts - The New York Times

French museums closed by civil service strike - BBC

Paris Museum Strike Continues; Louvre, Versailles Close Doors - Bloomburg

France: Labor strike widens, shuts Louvre museum and Versailles
- L.A. Times

Monday, November 30, 2009

Putting the Profit in Nonprofit

As we've said before, one of the huge issues with museums being able to pay their staff is that there just isn't enough money to go around. "But museums are NONPROFITS," you say. "They aren't supposed to make a profit, right?"


This misconception is at the heart of the problem, in my opinion. A nonprofit is not a business that doesn't make a profit. Instead, a nonprofit is a business that is unable to distribute profits to owners or shareholders. It has to reinvest its profits back into furthering its mission. There is no legal limit on how much money a nonprofit (in our case, a museum) can make.

So museums need to start thinking more like for-profit businesses, right? I had a conversation last night with a friend who remarked that the consumer-driven model can't work for museums. If it's all about making money, why don't museums just join with movie theaters and offer blockbuster hits inside (some museums do this with their IMAX screens, in fact)? Wouldn't that get people in the doors?

Sure it would, but then are people actually learning anything? Is the museum furthering its mission? Not really.

The important thing to know about nonprofits is they have a dual bottom-line:

1 – make money

2 – further the stated mission


Yes, museums must learn to do both, not one or the other.

Here's the challenge: how can museums (and museos) make money enough to pay salaries while furthering their mission? "If you build it, they will come" is not working. We need to do more. Any ideas on how we can put the profit back in nonprofit?

Food for Thought: Emergency Jobs Programs

It's almost impossible to talk about the museum employment situation without talking about the general employment situation. "Times are tough everywhere." While it is discouraging to hear this platitude as an excuse for inaction, platitudes are platitudes for a reason. The job market really is awful right now. Here's an excerpt from a New York Times op-ed you really ought to read:
"If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable."

- "The Jobs Imperative" - Paul Krugman

What Krugman proposes is a job creation program similar to the Works Progress Administration: salaried public service jobs, incentives for employers to hire instead of fire, etc. Kat and I have been rooting for a new W.P.A. for over a year now so naturally I think this is a great idea. The negative effects of unemployment don't disappear when you find a job. We need to be tackling long-term solutions.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Actively Organizing: A Lesson From Canada

Picketers from around the world in front of the Museum of Civilization and War. [via]

Museos all know the pitfalls of passive collecting: while you may end up with some great stuff, your collections will be uneven and incomplete. You might end up with all of one thing and none of another. If you are not continuously searching out the objects which will best further your museum's mission, you might fall into a collecting rut.

It seems that this blog has fallen into that rut. If I had been actively seeking news related to museum workers, wages, unions, and the employment situation, I might have been able to bring this story to your attention much sooner. Instead, I've been passively collecting and sharing links that I've stumbled upon. I've brought you a lot of one thing (links related to the general employment situation for young workers in nonprofits, for example) and none of another (stories about actual museos uniting).

In short, I'm feeling duly chastened. This is a huge story.

Workers at the Museum of Civilization and War in Ottawa Canada have been on strike for just over two months. You can follow news about the strike either on their union website (the museum is a national one, so workers can join the public servants' union) or on their Twitter, @MuseumWorkers. Despite their status as public servants, these workers have no job security, temporary contracts, and severely limited opportunities for advancement. They make significantly less than museum workers at other institutions, and have no protections against their jobs being contracted out. More specifics can be found here.

I don't know much about how these things work in Canada, but currently in the U.S. museos with union protection are either public servants or they work for an institution that has organized under the banner of a large labor union. Museum Educators at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum are trying to unionize under UAW Local 2110, a branch of the United Auto Workers. Museos at the New York Historical Society, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the MoMA can also join this union. I don't want to dilute this entry with an additional topic, but you might notice that even if you can join a union (which most museos cannot, since we are not all public servants or the part of a large and unified workforce at a prominent institution), you are still liable to run up against unfair employment practices: you might still get unfair wages, you might still be denied benefits or job security. Unionization is not a cure-all, but it helps. We actually hear about injustices at these museums because there is a union to publicize them. Unions do not only provide the right to bargain, but they also provide a voice outside of the institution. Other museos do not have that voice.

And what a voice it is. The strike at the Museum of Civilization and War shows us a wonderful example of what collective action in a museum should look like. There is an incredible amount of solidarity on the picket lines, with workers from other museums, other industries, and other countries showing up to express support. Museum programming has continued, with the striking workers arranging an outdoor childrens' museum and a Halloween fair. They have chosen to demonstrate what a valuable service they provide not by denying the public that service, but by continuing to provide it.

So what can you do to help aid the cause of workplace fairness in museums?
  • For starters, tell a friend. (Thank you Dan Cull, for blogging about this.)
  • If you really want to go all out you can head to Canada and join the picket line like the admirable men and women from Pittsburgh and Germany who are pictured above.
  • If you, like me, find yourself with less money and flex time than that, you can send an email to museum CEO Victor Rabinovitch. Let him know that you believe in equality of opportunity, fair salaries, and a healthy measure of employment protection.
  • Perhaps most importantly, you can let the workers at the Museum of Civilization and War know that you stand with them. I for one think that they provide an excellent example of how to organize with grace and class, and I hope their demands are met in full.
I'll be following this story closely from now on.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Forgotten Link

I just stumbled on this link now, so unfortunately it didn't make the roundup. It's the evocatively titled Stressful Jobs That Pay Badly from CNN.com. Curator clocks in at number 12, with a median salary of $46,500 and 89% of curators saying they're stressed.

Clearly curators make more money than museos in other parts of the field (certainly more than educators!), but then I would also surmise that they're more likely to have several post-graduate degrees. While $46K still a low salary for someone with several MAs or a PhD, it's definitely a living wage.

Note to self: get out of education and into curatorial work as soon as possible.

Link Roundup

It is I, your delinquent web mistress. Well, one of them. School tours at my museum began last month plus we've seen a big influx of donations (objects, not money), so I've been pretty busy. I do have a Google Doc filled with half-written entries, but in the interim here are some links that might be of interest.

At No Time In Post-World War II America Has It Been More Difficult To Find A Job - via the New York Times

Americans, Their Smiley-Faced Facade, and Reality - You might have realized that this isn't a blog with a smiley-faced facade. I don't believe it achieves anything to pretend everything is hunky dory in the Museum of Denmark when a lot of things are rotten. This is a tremendous read, talking about how toxic it is to smile and wait for things to change (while denying they need to) rather than being an advocate. An excerpt:
On the surface, prosperity gospels and positive-thinking companies appear harmless with their treacly "Successories products" of posters and coffee mugs, but they have subversively helped make each of us an island. They have convinced Americans that each individual has control and power over the conditions of their life, when that is largely not the case. Access to decent health care at a reasonable price is not a matter of individual effort. Neither is securing decent wages, pensions, safe working conditions or job security. Workers demanded those rights through collective action in the 20th century, and we are losing them now by taking an "every man for himself" approach to work.
Here is the New York Times book review of the same book that sparked this article: Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The Most Hilarious Job Advert Ever - The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center is seeking a Director. For free. Maybe if you do a good job they'll pay you in two years! Wonder if they've had any takers?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Proving the Value of Museums

Today let’s tackle another of the age-old questions: how do museums prove their value to society? We’ve been looking at things from an institutional perspective (i.e. how to get museums to offer better salaries, how to improve museum studies programs), but public perception is very much an element in the struggle for decent wages. If your work is viewed as menial or easy, employers can get away with paying you accordingly.

One day a man walked into my office (without knocking, just walked right in. This happens at least once a day) and demanded to know what I do. I’m a museum educator, so I explained about how I create and deliver school programs, how I visit local schools, how I develop educational materials that are sent to classes before their visits, how I recruit and train volunteers and coordinate their shifts, how because it’s a small museum I also research and plan exhibits and update our collections management software and assist with event coordination…

“So you’re basically a tour guide,” he scoffed, then turned and left my office, judging me obviously unfit to answer his important query, which was probably about where the bathrooms were located.

Reader, I saw red. Is this how my job is perceived? I wonder what this man would think curators do, or registrars, or conservators, or development specialists? I shudder to think. “They spend all day wasting my tax dollars reading, or they paste broken things together, which my 3 year old could do. “ Ugh. Fortunately this man isn’t the person approving our grant applications, but he is the “man on the street” to whom we must prove our value.

Museums aren’t the only institutions struggling with this. The Oak Brook Public Library is currently dealing with one of the most ignorant and hateful men on the street of all, a man who once “campaigned, successfully, against a plan to bring subsidized housing for seniors into town by declaring, ‘I don't want to live next to poor people. I don't want poor people in my town.’” He is absolutely gleeful at the prospect of the library shutting down. He doesn’t see its value, and doesn’t see why tax dollars should pay the salary of someone who spends their days “wiping tables and putting the books back on the shelves.” His charming words.

Teachers are also constantly proving their value. I used to work for the New York City Department of Education (and my father still works for them) and it’s always a struggle for city teachers to get compensation approaching that of other city workers, such as cops or firemen, despite the fact that the majority of them have more education than most cops or firemen. The usual explanation for this is that cops and firemen have more hazardous jobs than teachers, but my dad has had broken bones. I’ve been bitten. I know people who’ve been injured more seriously than either of us. Granted, these incidents didn’t occur with a general education population, but I will laugh in your face if you tell me that teachers don’t deserve to be paid for the hazards they face.

Erin Milbeck Wilcox recently pointed us towards the Teacher Salary Project, which points out that if teachers aren’t paid well they will take their talents elsewhere, and that’s not good for the future of America’s children. She suggests that perhaps museos can prove the importance of their societal contributions. After all, we educate the public too.

Teachers and librarians face similar struggles proving their value [1] but at least they have ubiquity on their sides. Schools are or have been a part of everyone’s life, and though not everyone uses libraries they are used more heavily and regularly than museums. Even I, a fairly regular museum patron, would put my library to museum usage ratio at around 5:1. Teachers have an additional leg to stand on, since there is always a shortage of qualified teachers somewhere. There is no shortage of museos, so the threat that we might walk out on the profession isn’t one that holds a lot of water. Besides, people who don’t see the value of museums aren’t going to care if a bunch of tour guides and glorified carpenters stop offering education programs or conserving paintings.

Museum outreach is focused more on getting people through the door: on showing them that there are interesting programs or exhibits at the museum that they might want to come see. But that doesn’t really change their perceptions about us. They might appreciate the programs or the exhibits, but that doesn’t mean they understand or appreciate the work or the expertise that go into them. That doesn’t mean they think our work is worthy of compensation. Remember, the man who deemed me a mere tour guide was a visitor. We understand that we educate the public and that we provide valuable services, but we’re not the ones that need convincing.

Do you work for a museum that tries to change people’s perceptions about the value of museums and of museos' contributions? Do you have any ideas for exhibits or programs or campaigns that would help the world to realize we’re not menial laborers? (Or worse, out of touch denizens of the ivory tower?)

[1] I am having trouble not turning this into a feminist rant about how the jobs that were typically the ones the little women were allowed to do are still viewed as less challenging. I think I deserve some kudos for staying mostly on track!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Museo: Origins and Evolution

We started using the term Museo because the bartender at the Lansdowne did.

If you did Museum Studies at Leicester you know the Lansdowne. There are times of day (and night) when it doubles as the programme's lounge. We'd often descend en masse after a lecture or set up camp for a social and stay for hours. In addition to being a wordsmith, this particular phrase-coining bartender was also dating a girl on the course, so he knew all of our faces albeit not all of our names. When we went to the bar to order he'd ask "Museo?" and if we said yes he'd perhaps mix our drinks a little stronger or fill our beer a little higher or extend the happy hour specials 15 minutes after they ended of course do everything just as he was supposed to, in the most professional way possible. This is the closest that I have ever come to the Cheers experience.

In short, one of the earliest meanings of Museo was "one who is in this pub all the damn time."

After finishing our course, we found Museo was still a perfectly serviceable term, and certainly better than most other options. "Museum person" and "museum professional" are clunky as far as self-identifiers go; "muse" is taken; "museologist" is archaic. So Museo it was and Museo it is.

It also makes a good prefix. Pete over at New Curator recently came up with the term "Museopunk." (More here.) The basic idea is that the most enthusiasm and the freshest ideas are coming from those on the fringes of the museum world: the recent graduates, the volunteers, those who are fed up with the endless funding cycles and the prioritizing of objects over people. As Pete wrote, it's "about the community over profit margins."

We feel like we're Museopunks here at Museos Unite (today I'm even wearing a plaid flannel shirt! Or is that grunge?). If you find yourself drawn to the concept you can chime in over at New Curator or even join the Museopunk social network at http://museopunk.ning.com/.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Future Lab

Museos Unite is very interested to learn about a site called "FutureLab" that aims to bring together non-profit freethinkers to figure out what the heck is wrong with things, and how things should look in 2020. (That's just 11 years away, folks. We better get moving.)

Anyway, we've joined up. We suggest you do as well. Let's put our heads together a solve this thing!

Monday, September 14, 2009

And our ranks will grow…

Kirsten hinted in her last post that I had some fun data to share. Well, I am not quite finished, but it is interesting even in these early stages.

I was wondering how many people graduate each year with a museum studies degree vs. how many entry level jobs come out a year. I think that the supply-demand relationship may be one of the biggest hurdles to our overcoming the much-too-little pay scenario.

So, first, I present the data for the USA, since degree types are delineated so clearly by the very useful National Center for Education Statistics. Data is for 1992-2007 graduation years, as that is what is available.


If it is hard to see, please comment and I will post again elsewhere.

Basically, in 1992 we had 67 grads, in 2007 we had 226. Mind you, this only counts degrees awarded in the USA, not including US citizens who got Museo degrees abroad. It also does not include people who got related degrees, it is just “Museum Studies.” No offence, I am just trying to illustrate a point.

So I am not going to do any fancy statistical analysis on this baby, mostly because I cannot for the life of me remember how to do a chi square test. I leave that up to my more sophisticated readers. What I will say is that I did a quasi statistical thing and put in the trendlines for the data, one being linear and one being exponential.

At the rate we are going, if we assume linear growth, in 10 years from this data (2017) there will be 319 degrees awarded that year. (If you want to assume exponential growth, there would be 468 degrees awarded. I am going to avoid assuming exponential growth because that seems impossible.)

I wish I had data on how many of 2007’s 226 grads are gainfully employed in musuems. I don’t. All I know is, in 2008 AND in 2009, there were probably another ~230 Museos per year added to the pack. That means 460 more on top of the 2180 Museos shown on that graph above that represents 16 years.

Approx. 2,640 Museos added to the job market since 1992, joining in the competition with thousands of non-Museum-Studies grads, long-time volunteers and interns, and career-changers for the same jobs.

With that number in front of you, is it any wonder that museums can get away with offering $20,000/yr salaries at this point?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Artists Without Mortarboards: Should Museum Studies Go Guerrilla?

I got very excited while reading this article from the New York Times, Artists Without Mortarboards, about a guerrilla art school that has sprung up in response to the proliferation of M.F.A. degrees. It seems the art world is dealing with some of the same problems as the museum world (though of course in some respects they are different branches of the same world). The similarities are kind of eerie. I've taken the liberty of editing two of the first paragraphs to demonstrate:

The professionalization and academicization of the art museum world has been lamented for some years, but lately they have become epidemic. The recent inflated art market halfway acceptable museum job market has created the illusion that being an artist a museo is a financially viable calling. Meanwhile art schools and universities — which often provide tenure (safe haven) for artists museos who may be taken seriously nowhere else — expanded to accommodate the rising number of art Museum Studies students and are now thoroughly invested in keeping these numbers high.

In this context the growing interest among art schools and universities (mostly abroad so far) in offering a Ph.D. in art Museum Studies makes the blood run cold. It also seems like rank, even cynical commercial opportunism. It’s too soon to tell, but I’d like to think that the economic downturn is doing serious damage to this trend and maybe even put budding artists off graduate school entirely.

Of course the final sentence is where the art worlds and the world of museum studies seem to diverge. As more potential museos find themselves excluded from the job market (oftentimes because they don't possess an advanced degree) they're applying to museum studies programs in droves, ultimately going into debt and still not finding employment thanks to this glorious economy of ours.

The problem of museum studies programs is too big to tackle right here, and has been gone over with a fine tooth comb many, many times. All of the proposed solutions are either unfair to museum studies graduates, whose degrees would be rendered useless; to long-time museos nearing retirement; or to new museos looking to catch a break. The reality of the situation is that museums or museum standards associations, by taking a definitive view on museum studies programs, whatever that view might be, would end up alienating a sizable percentage of their biggest allies and supporters. I think they realize this. I think that's why--however heated the museum studies debate gets--we haven't seen the Museums Association or the American Association of Museums attach a firm value to an advanced museum degree.

But this leaves us back where we started: with a problem. There are too many museum studies programs producing too many graduates (I think Kat has some graphs for you, because like so many other museum-related facts and figures this bizarrely hasn't been quantified before). But how do you discourage universities from starting new museum studies programs? There is a demand, and where there is a demand there is money. If there is money universities are going to run the programs. The only proposals I've seen for decreasing demand involve declaring M.A. programs worthless, thus contributing to the aforementioned alienation and, frankly, the loss of some highly skilled, valuable employees.

But what about providing alternatives? What if the university cash cow museum studies degree wasn't the only valid option? Would it be possible to form guerrilla museum studies collectives, such as the Bruce High Quality Foundation University? This simultaneously affirms the value of education and, if the quality of instruction was high enough and the cost low enough, draws students away from the clutches of the cash cow university systems. We're museos! We know all about the value of alternative learning environments. This should be doable. It also ties back to one of Kat's earlier assertions: if museums are going to expect people to volunteer for an extended period of time PLUS have a degree to earn the right to paid employment, then the museums should be footing the bill for those degrees. A collective of museums teaming up to offer a variety of courses to their volunteers (resulting in an accredited degree) seems like a viable option.

Can we crowd-source a pros/cons list? I know there are downsides galore, but I think with a little creative thinking an open-source, guerrilla museum studies program should be possible.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day, from Museos Unite

Happy Labor Day US museos. We've been too lazy to labor by bringing you relevant news and links, but we have been accumulating them! And we will share them! Soon!

In the meantime enjoy your day, whether you're off work or laboring to share the riches of your museums with the public.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Comments from Jenna

Our good friend Jenna, a staffer at the NHM in London, tried to comment to yesterday's post but couldn't get the site to work properly. I'm just passing along her two cents (pence?) on the civil service situation in the UK:

"In response to the article about federal workers, I thought it might be
interesting to note that the opposite is true in the UK - civil service jobs
often pay less than the private sector, and raises have not been in line with
inflation and cost of living increases. Here's a link from the civil service
union: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/media-myths-about-civil-and-public-services/ "

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Morning Link Roundup : 26 August 2009

We haven't had one of these recently (we haven't had much of anything, really) but the rest of the museum community hasn't been quite as lax in their blogging.

It's Not About Adaptation, It's About Revolution - MJ Writes tackles a lot of the same things Kat did in an earlier post, but MJ did it first. I'm sure most people following these conversations have already read MJ's post, but if not, here it is. She has some great ideas.

55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community - Coleen Dilenschneider's follow up to the post above. Even more great ideas! In an ideal world museums would function a lot more like libraries, providing community resources and serving as meeting places.

The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide - The IMLS provides a fairly thorough breakdown of the elements that are pertinent to the future of museums (and libraries!) in the United States and beyond. I'll let Kat explain the details when she gets a chance, but we're going to try and have these conversations. Kind of like a book club!

Why Do Federal Workers Make So Much Money? - Income in the private sector hasn't increased with the cost of living. Income for government workers has. Not the best analysis ever, but interesting.

And lastly, a link that made me laugh out loud: The Grand and Secret Order of Museum People -The Attic proposes a museos oath. I love it, partially because I went to an undergraduate institution where we took our traditions and secret ceremonies very seriously, and partially just because the idea of museums--which are continuously striving to be more egalitarian--having a secret handshake makes me giggle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Museum Job: $204,000 a year. No lie.

I am sure that many of you have seen this posting for a Project Director/Museum Developer in Abu Dhabi. Salary is quoted at $204,000

Now, I know that there are many reasons that Abu Dhabi features HIGH salaries for jobs. I do not want to discuss those elements of the equation today.

Instead, I ask: Which of you would sign up for 3 years in a foreign country--one VERY different than the one you are used to--in order to make that much money? I am sure it would be a very interesting position. In three years, you could make more money working in museums than you could hope to make in 10-15 years here.

And if many people are willing to leave the US in order to make more money working in museums, isn't the USA shooting itself in the foot here? Bring on the continued brain drain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Morning Links: 18 August 2009

Short one this morning, folks.

The Museum Bubble - Via Kat, via Julianne Snider. Good article from Artnet about the art museum bubble and what happened when it popped. Much of what Ben Davis writes about art museums is applicable to other types of museums too, particularly his commentary on how the souring economy has affected large institutions vs. small ones.

On Those "Entitled" Twenty Somethings - A reaction to the dismissal of the employment concerns of twenty somethings as the whinging of the entitled perpetual adolescent.

I will leave you with this, in lieu of a plea for links: Kat and I were discussing the fragmentary nature of web dialogue, particularly pertaining to museums. It's difficult to come to any firm conclusions or make meaningful changes in the status quo if everyone's portion of the same conversation is scattered on their various websites and blogs. While web dialogue is great it definitely limits those who can participate in it because it does require a large, real-time investment of effort. It also excludes less web-savvy members of the old guard from the conversation. As Museos Unite we'd naturally like to get everyone together, but this presents its own logistical difficulties. We're kicking some ideas around, the most sensible of which looks to be a mixture of web and in-person dialogue. Do you have any other solutions to suggest?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Morning Links : 17 August 2009

I guess it's because of the recession, but more articles about nonprofit employment seem to be focusing on the non-monetary rewards people are seeking in their occupations. One of these rewards is flexibility, which is definitely something I value highly. Do you find your museum job flexible in terms of hours and days? What other rewards do you seek in lieu of financial compensation? Do you reap these rewards sufficiently to make low museum salaries "worth it" to you? I ask because a) I mostly think people are kidding themselves and being a bit high and mighty when they claim this and b) because I'm genuinely curious what the breakdown of opinions is. I find that when I talk to people in person the opinions are more colorful than they've been on the internet. I don't know if this is a demographics question, or if people are just more reluctant to sound negative in a traceable medium. What say you, Museos?

A Job Suffused With Meaning? Bring It On! - A comparison of the values of Gen Y and the Baby Boomers.

Low Salaries Hold Charities Back, Author Argues - This article is hilarious for the way it pities the poor sod making a mere $86K because he chose to work for a nonprofit, but the rest of it is right on target.

AAM 2009 Emerging Museum Professionals Survey Results - A good demographic breakdown of the field as it will exist for a couple of decades, barring a brain-drain. Look at all these bright young things looking for entry-level employment! Please pay them a living wage.

This is your one-note broken record signing off. Let me know anything I've missed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Love What You Do AND Get Paid!

I don’t like when “but if you love what you’re doing, isn’t it all worth it?” is used as a defense of (or at least a dismissal of) low wages. You’re not saying it in so many words, but what you’re implying is “You don’t love museums enough. You don’t love them as much as I do.” As far as I’m concerned no one’s enthusiasm for their chosen career is in question here. You can be an extremely passionate, talented artist, but that doesn’t mean your art is going to pay the bills. Fortunately for these “starving artist” types art can be done at any hour of the day, and they can still get 9-5 jobs to pay the bills. Museos do not have this option. Museum work has to be done during the normal 9-5 work day. Sometimes (often) it goes longer than that, but that doesn’t make the hours flexible. It doesn’t mean you can do museum work fueled entirely by passion and talent. That 9-5 job (museums) has to pay the bills. It has to. There isn’t another option.

Museum workers are people, not just cogs in the museum machine. Passion is important. No one has claimed it isn’t, but passion doesn’t put food on the table or pay the rent. Arguing for more passion amongst museum workers is, from what I’ve seen, like saying we need more love of food amongst chefs, or that librarians should be a bit more enthusiastic about books. People are passionate. That isn’t what the problem is. Stop dismissing the problem on those terms.

One solution (or at least stop-gap) for the salary problem is that organizations that post job listings can take a stand and refuse to list jobs below a certain salary threshold. I believe the University of Leicester Jobs Desk did this several years ago when the national museums in the UK were offering very low starting wages. If jobs clearinghouses worked this into their stated policies perhaps there would be less of an inclination to stiff employees. Or perhaps more employers would try to get around it by not listing a salary. What do you think?

Museos Defined

Just to clear up any and all confusion:

Museo (n., english) - any person who is working in, volunteering in, or seeking to work in a museum. Person interested in collaborating to make a change in how museums are run for the betterment of the museos' situation in regards to pay, benefits, and professional development.

Museos Unite (n., english) - blog dedicated to mental collaboration among museos, aiming to improve the situation for any and all museos in regards to pay, benefits, and professional development.

Less Money, More Problems

It is very reassuring to see that the thought-path that my brain is following along is simultaneously being followed by lots of other museum freethinkers. Excellent! That must mean that we are all on the right track. (This post by New Curator and the excellent comments are heading towards the same topic...)

As I continued thinking about the major problems museums are facing, I realized that we are looking at the problem from the wrong end. We, as the unemployed or underemployed, are wondering why we aren't being offered more money.

And we know the answer: there's no money in museums.

So if only we could get museums to have more money, then all of these problems would go away. (easier said...) But, of course, first we have to figure out a way to translate the resources that museums have into cold hard cash. If we can solve this dilemma, then we will be sorted!

(NB: in this post, I am purposefully going to propose some pretty "out there" ideas. Please feel free to get all up-in-arms or up in my grill. Or just all up in the comments section.)


First, a list of current problems (by no means exhaustive. Also obvious to all of us):
1. People are going through lots of school (time and money) to get a master's degree. They come out with a degree and cannot find a job that pays enough to offset cost of time/money investment, or a job at all.
2. Not enough jobs (the BIG problem).
3. Heavy reliance on volunteers.
4. People with jobs are expected to work many hours and play many roles.
5. Lots of red tape prevents employees from making changes
6. Museums have terrible opening hours if they intend to attract a wide audience. Most people are in work during those hours.
7. Museums are really competing with each other for resources (both money and visitors), regardless of how much they claim to be collaborating.
...please add to list in comments...

Looking at these issues, we can see that it all comes back to not having enough money. While museums may not be rich in an economic sense, they have endless wealth in other areas. Museums must turn these unique resources into money, and must RETHINK how they have been doing this for centuries.

The person who can come up with how to do this will change the entire meaning of the word "museum." Perhaps together we can figure out a way to solve this problem.

Museum resources (forgive the simplicity in my wording):
1. Objects. Museums have really neat, old stuff that has been well taken care of. People never get to see this stuff in person. If it had not been kept safe by museums, it would either be gone or in bad condition.
2. Records and "intangibles" (knowledge and oral history, etc). Museums have endless knowledge in records and memory, much of which is not widely dispersed.
3. Space. Many museums have awesome buildings and interior spaces, also with accompanying green space that can be unique in urban areas.
4. Experts (research end). Museums have brilliant people who are experts in specific fields.
5. Experts (museo
end). Museums bring together experts from various specialities (educators, designers, programming coordinators, writers, etc) all working towards a common goal.
...please add to list in comments...

Translate resources to money:
This is where I start going a bit "out there" by listing every possible method. I know some of these are unethical or impractical as we understand them now, but perhaps if we can think outside the box, there are ways to make them work ethically and practically.

Resource 1: Objects
-Sell some objects.
----to other museums?
----to individuals?
----to countries what want them back (repatriation for pay, if country can afford it)?
-Loan objects at a price.
----to individual collectors for short times?
-Copy and sell copies of objects
----this is already done to an extent, but generally the copies either look fake and are affordable, or look really good and are way too expensive. People want to take the experience home! Why don't we let them?
-Charge to experience objects
----this is already done too. Unfortunately, this seems to be the way museums are alienating potential visitors the MOST. Who wants to pay $15-25 to go to a museum these days?
----could museums join together (GASP! collaboration) to make group tickets? Many cities have a city pass. Could there be a "museum pass" by state? Could AAM or another group (museum start-up, Pete?) facilitate this? Would it even benefit museums financially?
-Use objects in other media: movies, TV, books, etc. Must be MAINSTREAM if they hope to make any money at all. Must "sell out" so to speak and tap into mainstream audience. Perhaps loan objects (or rights and licensing to object image) as props or stories for movies, books, TV?

Resource 2: Records and "intangibles"
-not really sure what to do with these, other than "movies, TV, books" comment above. Suggestions welcome

Resource 3: Space
-This is already done to an extent, too (however, from many comments I have heard personally, exorbitant cost and special requirements like limited choices once the space is in use might turn people off from using space)
-Museum bars?
-Museum night clubs?
-Are there other things other than parties, weddings, etc that a museum can host? Something that is both cool and educational and would attract a large audience willing to pay a lot? To get really controversial, let's suggest: POLITICAL RALLIES. Discuss.

Recource 4 and 5: Experts, both on research end and museo end
-Some museums sell design skills and exhibits. Can we sell more of these skills? Museums should be seen as the best place to go for any of these things. While I understand that a person who is employed by the museum has their first priority to do inside work, could there be a separate division? (Some large institutions do this already.)

And now for the most controversial statement yet. Please kick up a fuss, or I will be disspointed:

There are a finite number of resources (both money and audience) for museums as they are now. Unless museums make a huge change, then I argue that small museums should have to join with a larger "parent" museum to share resources. Enter: the meglomuseum of the future! (NB: I would rather museums could solve this problem and keep individual autonomy, but I still don't think it is sustainable as people become increasingly reliant on technology. More on this later.)

Morning Link Roundup : 14 August 2009

Internet Museum Scholars, I am terribly impressed with the quality of your posts and the tenor of the dialogue.

Talkin' Museum Studies Blues - Another opinion on the status of the museum studies debate. Some good points, many that I agree with and some (surprise!) that I don't. It is always nice to read museum studies success stories, though.

Where are Museum Studies Graduate Programs Going Wrong? - Colleen Dilen talks about the pervasiveness of low salaries in the nonprofit sector, museum studies programs' confusion over their status as an academic or a professional degree (and the ensuing confusion for their students), and Gen Y's general valuation of a life/work balance over money.

Notes on the Museum Studies Discussion - A great summary of arguments by New Curator. I especially like the way he explains the routes into museum work.

Museunions - New Curator post on some of the pros and cons of a museum workers union, making some productive points.

How J. Peterman Treated Me After 8 Years of Service - A reminder that employment issues like the ones we're dealing with are not unique to the nonprofit sector, and in fact are probably more common in the for-profit world.

I'm feeling a little burned out so I'm taking the rest of the day off blogging. I won't be poking around the internet looking for links for the weekend, so if there's anything you want to draw my attention to you'll really have to leave a comment.

Coming up: an entry from Kat about the root of THE problem.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Food for Thought - Unionization and the Technology Sector

Found via some keyword searching after reading one of this morning's links. Many of the challenges of unionizing museum workers are the same as the challenges of unionizing tech workers.:

"Forty years ago, nearly one private-sector worker in three belonged to a
union. Today, that number has dwindled to around 10 percent and there's little
to suggest that a revival is nigh. Although unions remain fairly strong in the
blue-collar world, that world is shrinking. (Can you say "technology"?)
Consequently, labor unions don't wield the political clout they used to.

It's sad to see the anemic state of organized labor in this country today. Worse, it
kills me to admit that, to a large degree, the erosion of the labor movement is
the fault of the unions themselves. Their refusal or inability to change with
the times, to keep the movement relevant in the face of globalization and the
digital conversion -- the so-called new economy -- has been disastrous.

Disastrous, I might add, for union members and nonunion workers
alike. Just as the Democratic Party has largely ceded the battlefield to
Republican stridency in recent years, so, too, has organized labor wilted before
an economy where the unrestrained market rules all. The result is unsurprising:
The rich get richer, the shareholder is valued more than the employee, jobs are
eliminated in the name of bottom-line efficiency (remember when they called
firing people "right-sizing"?) and the gulf between the rich and the working
class grows wider every year.

You see this libertarian ethos everywhere, but nowhere more clearly
than in the technology sector, where the number of union jobs can be counted on
one hand. Tech is the Wild West as far as the job market goes and the robber
barons on top of the pile aim to keep it that way. They'll offshore your job to
save a few bucks or lay you off at the first sign of a slump, but they're the
first to scream, "You're stifling innovation!" at any attempt to control the
industry or provide job security for the people who do the actual work."
- Wired

Morning Link Roundup: 13 August 2009

We've got an interesting smattering of links this morning, tying the idea of unionization a bit closer to the ongoing debate about Museum Studies graduate programs.

Questioning Assumptions: The Future of Education - A new post from the CFM. It's mostly about the integration of digital technologies into educational practice (not just museum education or museum studies education, but across the board), but there's a brief mention of unionization at the beginning, and whether or not the AAM would be the ideal organization to head these efforts. Kat and I discussed this briefly and can see some of the pros and cons (future post!), but for now will just say welcome to the discussion AAM.

More Thoughtful Learning: How Professional Development Through Social Media Can Strengthen Cultural Institutions - This is not really about graduate programs specifically, but more about useful, accessible (via social media) forms of professional development. Food for thought re: the future of museum professionalization. Recommended by James.

Can software developers form an 'open source' union? - This is from 2003 and it has nothing to do with museums, but 'open source' is one of the main models of unionization I think might have a chance at working for museos, and this is one of the only summaries of this type of union I could locate. I know the Freelancer's Union is also considered open source, but theirs is a union based primarily on group insurance rates rather than any sort of bargaining or standards setting. Once again, more union information and discussion will be forthcoming in future posts.

Amy commented over at New Curator that many of the salary and market saturation issues we're upset about seem to be more of a problem Stateside than they currently are in the UK, thanks to some regulations put in place by the Museums Association, so we're also looking into the state of things (typical degree costs, starting salaries, unionization options etc) in the US vs. the UK. Perhaps we will make an exciting graph! People love graphs, right?

As usual, if you know of anything else we should be reading please give us a shout.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Food for Thought - A Typical Museum Studies Graduate

"Food for Thought" entries will be brief quotes, snippets of larger conversations, facts and figures, etc.

The issues being discussed on this blog obviously affect more people than just graduates of Museum Studies programs, but because the Museum Studies vs. other graduate degrees vs. no graduate degree debate is so closely tied to the issues of salaries and expectations, this is relevant to the overall decision to unionize or not unionize.

"Here is my description of the stereotypical graduate of a museum studies
program in the western part of the country: A smart young woman, armed with lots
of generalized knowledge about museums and how they should be, taught by
university professors, some of whom have never worked in a museum in the real
world. As a member of the emerging generation, she wants to be in charge right
away, figuring that her studies were enough dues to pay and that traditional
starting roles would be both boring and low paying. She is fortunate enough,
through connections, to find a job as director of the local historical society
in East Jesus, Texas. She has a 1,000 sf museum complete with a two-headed calf
and the baptismal clothing of the first white child born there. She has a
volunteer secretary and no other help, while the board of 25 people is made up
of 70+ year olds, all of them very conservative. Besides the challenges of
improving the museum, she finds that there are very few people of either sex her
age with whom to be friends or even acquaintances. She starts looking at the AAM
job site after her first month on the job, hoping to spin herself up to the next
higher circle of hell in a larger city. She might also consider going back for
another advanced degree in social sciences."


Morning Link Roundup: 12 August 2009

As several people have noted, the conversation about museum salaries, museum sustainability, and the value of an advanced degree for museum employment is an ongoing one. Here are several things we're reading today, or that we've read recently:

Where the Boys Aren't - The AAM Center for the Future of Museums ponders whether or not low museum salaries are tied to an overwhelmingly female workforce.

More on the Future of Museum Studies - A conversation on improving museum studies graduate programs, also from the CFM.

Design in Museum Studies - A blog featuring "Comments from June 22nd's discussion on the future of museums and what a Museum Studies Program at Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt can do to benefit future museum professionals."

We're also dabbling in a bit of research about open source unions and how other countries (namely the UK) have dealt with the problems posed by low wages.

Anything else that we should be reading? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are Museums Sustainable?

Forgive us if we don't have a cohesive strategy or even a unified blogging "voice" just yet. Right now this blog is a mix of people with a mix of ideas, trying to milk even more ideas and voices from the ether of the Internet. Please make yourself heard in the comments, because so far I've seen interesting points raised here and elsewhere.

The biggest bogeyman facing museums is, as always, a lack of funding. There might be plenty of functions that a museum needs performed, but there is insufficient money to pay the ideal number of people to do it. This leaves museums with three options:
  1. Add additional functions to the job descriptions of current employees.
    • Plus: Free
    • Minus: Overworked employees.
  2. Have interns or volunteers perform job functions
    • Plus: Free
    • Minus: Often a lack of consistency due to high turnover
    • Minus: Destructive effect on overall museum economy, from a worker's perspective.
    • Minus: Is it sustainable? See below.
  3. Hire someone for the new position, but with a very low starting salary.
    • Plus: Inexpensive.
    • Plus: Qualified individual who can devote full 40 hours a week to the task.:
    • Minus: Destructive effect on overall museum economy, from a worker's perspective.
    • Minus: Hinders, rather than helps, diversity in the museum field. See below.
My opinion on this might differ from Kat's, (or Maya's, or Jenna's, or yours) but I think part of the reason to organize is to discourage people from taking the poorly paid posts, because this hurts everyone in the long run. The acceptable "entry level" salary for a major US metropolitan area used to be between $32-36K. Recently there have been a spate of museums that seem to think $20K is now an acceptable entry level salary. And if they are able to find qualified, competent people to work for that rate then they are 100% right.

There are a finite amount of jobs and no, as far as I can see organizing won't fix that. It's not a magical elixir. In fact I don't really see how a museum union could coerce museums to offer decent wages, insurance, etc. As KLandon mentioned in her comment on the last post, forcing museums to pay a certain minimum wage could potentially make the number of employment opportunities shrink, particularly in small museums. I'm not sure we're looking at a typical bargaining organization here, especially with such a wide variety of museum types and sizes and differing regional needs.

What a union (and perhaps I am using the term loosely) can do is raise awareness of various issues that affect museum workers: an advocacy organization. If we value ourselves and our time insufficiently, we can't expect our employers to pay well for our services.

Which brings me to the title of this post: are museums sustainable? I don't mean can the conditions in your object store be maintained for hundreds of years, or whether or not anyone will care about your collection of rubber ducks twenty years from now. I mean the most important resource museums have, their people. Is the way museums handle staffing sustainable in the long-term? If it isn't, museums themselves can't be sustainable institutions.

Pete of New Curator calls the extreme reliance on volunteers in museums "not healthy" and "not sustainable," noting that "Any other model relying this heavily on unpaid labour is normally illegal or doomed to failure. Can you imagine a magazine not paying its writers? Or a television program not paying it’s production team? What kind of quality are we to expect?"

The same can be said for heaping extra responsibilities on extant employees. While I'm sure some bear up admirably under the pressure, burnout is inevitable, especially when extra responsibility isn't compensated.

As for lower salaries, most discussions I've heard seem to come back to the idea that there's no reason to hire people with advanced degrees if they're going to demand these fancy "living wage" salaries. (A reason for unionization if there ever was one.) We can train local people from community colleges instead! Involving people from the community is a good and noble idea. They should be involved in the day to day life of the museum. But what happens when you're offering a $20K/year salary? Who do you think is taking those jobs? Who do you think is doing several years of unpaid volunteer work just to possibly one day get those jobs? It's not the psych major from the local community college, it's a rich kid living on mommy and daddy's dime. This does not contribute to diversity in the museum field.

Sigh. Oh well. Unless the money situation at museums changes, it looks like museums are not sustainable. Damn and blast...

I don't believe this for one second.
What's unsustainable are museum employment practices. The question remains: what should we do about it?

I'm sure I've jumped all over the place and left out about a dozen salient points, so please chime in and make those points yourselves!