Monday, November 9, 2009

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?


  1. Yes, 7 candidates so far in one month from as far away as Oklahoma and Maryland and, of course, from right here in NYC.. All top professionals, MA & PhD. I myself, a former business manager and creator of museums, have worked as Ex. Dir. of the WAH center for 13 years as a volunteer. We have 8 professionals who have volunteered for over 10 years. We are just now developing paid positions. If we can do that, we can create more jobs for museum professionals. The concept of giving a young professional just out of college the opportunity to get experience and make connections for their future is a good one. At the moment there are not enough paid professional positions in the world for all of the talented museum professionals out there, so they end up doing other things, not in their career track. This is a great opportunity. It is good for people like you to seek well paid positions with benefits, and this is an opportunity for someone with vision to develop just that for himself or herself and others.

  2. Terrance,
    Thanks for responding. The only problem I have with your response is that the job advert was not asking for a "young professional just out of college," but rather one with prior experience at a major museum.
    (And am I crazy, or has the job advertisement changed since it first appeared? Now it reads that experience is preferred, but I swear that is not what it said in October.)
    Bon Chance!

  3. Regardless of whether they are/were seeking an experienced or a newly trained professional, there is nothing particularly altruistic about allowing someone the great kindness of permitting them to work full-time, for free, without prospect of pay. (You may consider "maybe being paid in the future" a prospect of pay, but I think it's at best a nebulous carrot to dangle.) I would prefer we call a spade a spade, rather than calling it charity or opportunity.

    Terrence, I'm very happy for you that your personal circumstances allowed you to work for 13 years without pay. That's hardly something most people can afford to do. I know museums are traditionally very white collar, but I was under the impression that we as a field were attempting to recruit candidates from outside of the upper-middle class box. Unfortunately this seems to be little more than lip service; we'd love to hire them, but they can't afford the years of unpaid labor it would take to arrive at the point of employability.

    I appreciate that you view what you're doing as getting your organization to the point where you can pay some additional museum professionals. It's great that you've started off as an all-volunteer staff. Most do. It's also fine that you want to find a replacement for yourself, because frankly after 13 years of unpaid employment I'd be looking to move on too. However if you know you're recruiting for an unpaid position don't you think you should have kept your search local? Not international? You may have gotten some great applications from Maryland and Oklahoma, but unless those candidates were already planning on moving to NYC for unrelated reasons expecting them to uproot their lives for a volunteer position is unreasonable, and unlikely to happen.

    I'm glad you recognize there is a problem here: there aren't enough paid positions in the museum field, so highly trained professionals are leaving to work outside of their field. Kat, the other blogger on this site, is in the middle of starting a non-profit to teach construction safety, a far cry from her exhibit-design and visitor services background. However the answer to this brain drain is NOT more unpaid positions. Those won't keep anyone in the field. Ultimately they will leave for paid employment, just like those who are unable to secure any position at all.

  4. Anyone who would be a full-time unpaid museum director in NYC must be independently INSANELY RICH.

    Also, there are no benefits attached to this position. How could one have health care?

    I don't want this to sound like a personal attack, but the fact that this position is unpaid is unacceptable. There has to be grant money, or private donations, that could fund giving this person even something like a $10/hour salary without benefits (which is also insulting and not enough to live in NYC, or any city). Start charging for tickets, if you don't already. Have a fund raiser. Have a gift shop. Apply for grants! Appeal to some of the wealthy art patrons in New York. It is irresponsible to have a museum (or any business) and expect people to work there for free.

    Having this kind of top-level position be UNPAID is the very thing that Museos Unite is against. I am ashamed that the museum field would have the audacity to ask someone to be a director of an organization for free.

    I challenge anyone to find ANY OTHER field where this is acceptable. It shouldn't be acceptable ANYWHERE.