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.