Wednesday, September 22, 2010

“Save the Arts” Campaign

In the UK, a new campaign has kicked off to save arts funding.  The proposed cuts of 25% of arts funding have already affected some of the national museums (you may have heard about the micropalaeontology department at the NHM,) national organizations (the MLA is closing) and will be sure to affect many more organizations. 

This video that Save the Arts has released is both adorable and poignant.

We at Museos Unite encourage you to watch the video, sign the petition, and to spread the word about this important campaign using all social media outlets.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Month at the Museum to have 5 Finalists?

After Nina Simon tweeted today asking MSI when the announcement would come, I found that I, too was curious. As all good armchair detectives know, the best thing to do is to Google “Month at the Museum” and select “the latest”.

This page came up in the results:


So there are to be five finalists, not three as previously reported. (Granted, this page seems to be a place holder and could have been put up to throw people off the trail. This is ALLLLLLL speculation!)

Still no word on who the lucky few will be…Stay tuned!


UPDATE (9:30 PM): They have since taken the page down. I guess someone figured out that it wasn't supposed to be live yet!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This is just for fun!

Small update on a more personal level. As stated before, I entered the Month at the Museum contest for MSI. Unfortunately, I did not progress to the semi-finals. Only ~15 out of ~1500 people were lucky enough to get through. But I wanted to share my video anyway, because I think it was lots of fun to make, and I hope that everyone can get some enjoyment out of it.

Does anyone know of anyone who went through to the semi-finals? What do you think that MSI was looking for in a candidate?


PS – since we at Museos Unite are very interested in the out-of-the-box, creative nature of this museum project, it will be featured here throughout its run as part of our next series about New, Unique Museum Projects.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Skills Every Museo Should Have (or Learn)

Let’s face it. Although you learn so much over the course of a museum studies master’s degree, there is still so much to learn. I am trying to compile a list of things that I learned outside of school that I think are necessary skills in today’s museum industry.

1-Social Media:
If you are reading this blog, chances are that you found us though social media networks such as twitter, or perhaps another blog that you frequent. That is awesome! Maybe you tweet for yourself/a museum/a museum consulting company/a historical society. Maybe you run your own blog. Whether you blog & tweet or just read them & follow them, you should be able to navigate social networks. Period. There is no excuse today not to have some knowledge of social networks. Museums need to keep up with technology, and therefore Museos do, too. (Here’s a guide to Twitter Basics in case you need it.)

2-Grant Writing:
Kirsten and I studied in England, which meant that our program taught us bids to city council, instead of the US equivalent of grant writing. Although there are many similarities, they are actually very specific processes. Therefore, to get my ducks in a row, I found a grant writing class at a local university and audited it. This option was very cost effective (as I didn’t need the credits) and I was able to learn everything I needed to know. Kirsten, on the other hand, learned grant writing on the job. She successfully researched and wrote several successful grants for her museum. Since you may end up being one of only a few employees at a small museum, you have to be able to do practically everything, and that involves fundraising. So...

3-Varied Computer Software:
I know there is a long list of computer software that Museos should know (please please please add any I forget into the comments!) but I would start with

  • Adobe software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. That way, you can make and print media that looks professional at your museum.
  • I also suggest basic web design (some HTML and CSS) so that you can stay involved in how your museum is portrayed online. I personally learned Dreamweaver using the free online tutorial on Adobe's website. There are so many free resources on the web to learn basic web design, and a quick look at google will help you find them. Remember: your museum may have a web team, and it may not. Better to be prepared.
  • Office suite, obviously.
  • A basic movie editing program (Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, iDVD) to make videos or slide shows of exhibits to show members or donors
  • I would add museum cataloging programs (PastPerfect) and fundraising software (Raiser’s Edge) but I am sure that these are going to be specific to the institution. If anyone has any experience with learning these before you got a job, and if that helped, we’d appreciate the feedback!

4-People Management Skills:
It may be hard to gain this experience while not on the job. You will probably have to create a project in order to find people to manage. Not like we need to do any more unpaid work, Museos, but if you create a fun project, you can find yourself managing a group on your off hours. Personally, I organize and coordinate a social group that does happy hours, and I know friends who have started other social groups that exist to help raise money for nonprofits. Many museums have young members’ groups, and you could join these and take leadership positions in planning fun events. Whichever route you take, having management skills will always help you on a resume (and on the job).

As we all know, since the word “museum” can mean anything from a small historic house to a huge international tourist destination with millions of visitors a year, a Museo’s job can be incredibly varied. Although museums are really about the interaction between visitors and objects, we cannot ignore the way technology is creeping into everything that we do. Being able to interact with people in person and online is always helpful, and knowing how to get funding to keep your museum ticking will be priceless.

So Museos, what extra skills have you developed that helped you land a job or to improve your current work? Have there been any skills you wished you had learned prior to gaining a position? How did you develop these skills?

As always, we welcome any and all comments below.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Awesomely Unique Idea: MSI’s Month at the Museum

Yesterday was the closing day for submissions to the Month at the Museum contest for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  The Museos Unite team found out about the contest right when it was announced on July 15th via the magic of Twitter (great example of well utilized social media)! 

A bit of background on the contest, in case you are not familiar.  Entrants were to submit a 60-second video, a 500-word essay, a headshot, and an entrance packet to the museum.  The prize is to live at the museum for 30 days with minimal contact with the outside world, exploring the museum and interacting with guests throughout.

As far as we know, no museum in the world has hosted a program like this one, although a few days ago we wrote about how people used to live at the National Museum of Natural History.  I am sure Museos used to live at museums all the time in the old days. As it is the FIRST EXPERIMENT OF ITS KIND (!!!) we have to applaud MSI heartily. Hooray for thinking outside the box!  Hooray for inviting a stranger to view the inner workings of the museum! Hooray for capturing the imaginations of people throughout the world!

Yesterday the museum announced via its Facebook and Twitter pages that there have been over 1,000 applications thus far. What a great response! When was the last time that a museum got that kind of attention for something that wasn’t a sponsored blockbuster exhibit?  (Really, if you know, please put it in the comments! We’d love to be able to draw some comparisons).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this Museo (Kat) totally applied! I figured it would be a great opportunity to see firsthand just how groundbreaking projects can change the industry. It also would give me an opportunity to use all of this great museum knowledge I have racked up over the years, right?

We cannot wait to see what changes that Month at the Museum inspires across the museum industry.  Will there be spinoff projects at other institutions?  Will it create a Museo-lebrity that kids will be lining up to get autographs from? Will it make even more people rush to get Museum Studies degrees? Stay tuned to find out…

So, some questions for our readers: Did any of you put in applications? What possible changes do you think could come from this project? What do you think of the attention MSI has garnered for Month at the Museum? Any other comments?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Museos Unite!

It’s been a good year.

On August 11th of last year, Museos Unite set out to raise awareness, start discussions, and generally give voice to the concerns that people aren’t willing to talk about in museums.

We hope we were able to do some of those things.  Let’s review some of our biggest topics of discussion:

(1) Salaries – We completed the 2010 Salary Survey and published reports on the results.  With a sample of 99 fulltime museum employees, we were able to draw some conclusions, and we learned a lot about what to ask next time. We hope to make another salary survey in 2011, taking into account what we have learned.

(2) Solutions Series – We started throwing out some off-the-wall, out-of-the-box ideas about how to get more money for entry level museum salaries, or how to raise money in general.  We had the very controversial “Robin Hood Rule” and the greatly debated “offsite museum bar,” as well as contributions from a reader and from the well-known museum blogger newcurator.  We are always looking for more suggestions, and hope to hear from more readers.

(3) Unions, benefits, compensation, tipping, employee development, and dedication to work – We discussed these topics and more throughout the posts and in the comments. The debate continues…

Overall, thank you to our readers for making it a great year. Don’t give up! We can still affect great change and help Museos all over the world if we put our heads together. Let’s keep throwing ideas around and see where it leads us…

If everyone thinks outside the box all the time, then the box ceases to exist…

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh, the benefits of museum work…

Museos Unite reader Ann sent me this link today about museum directors in NYC living tax-free in museum-owned apartments--really, really nice apartments. (They are either at or near the museum, and are used for entertaining as well as housing the director, which is why the whole thing works.) People (not the government) seem to think that directors living in $5 million apartments is tad on the excessive side.

What do you think?

In the past, more employees than just the directors used to live at the museum. Check out this story from the Museum of Natural History’s blog.

Pretty cool that employees used to have the option to live at the museum if they were strapped for cash. Shame that the practice does not continue.

Or does it?  More on that tomorrow…

Monday, August 2, 2010

“Your Director makes WHAT?” asks New Jersey

Recently, the New York Times published this article (“Lawmakers Seeking Cuts Look at Nonprofit Salaries“, July 26, 2010), referencing the desire of new Jersey lawmakers to curb the amount that nonprofit leaders can make.  Essentially, they are saying “hey, executive director, if you are making THAT much money, then your organization must be rich and therefore the state really isn’t going to give you money. You just give it to the boss, not those starving children! So there!”

As you know, Museos, we here at the blog have previously written about our own chagrin with the great divide between museum top-earners and entry-level salaries.  I loved seeing this quote in the article: “Compensation also varies by type of nonprofit. Museum directors and hospital chiefs generally are better paid than leaders of other nonprofits.” (emphasis added)

I actually don’t know what to say about the accuracy of that statement (I have no idea what the author’s references were), but seeing museum directors and hospital chiefs in the same boat surprises me.  Also, I would be afraid that the average reader would take away from this sentence that museum pay is gratuitously high.  As everyone in the field knows, that is not the case for most Museos.

The article references a website called Charity Navigator that requires more investigation on our part (look forward to that post!).  I did really enjoy their president’s quote:

“Many donors feel that paying the leader of a charity a six-figure salary is outrageous,” said Ken Berger, the group’s president.

Mr. Berger disagrees with the argument, popular among many nonprofits, that to attract top talent to manage complex organizations, they must compete with for-profit businesses.

“I’m not advocating poverty wages,” he said. “But arguing that those working for the benefit of the neediest people in our society should make millions and multimillions like corporate leaders defies common sense.”

Very interesting that Mr. Berger cites the very argument that came up in the comments section of our post.  This division between earning enough and not enough--between self-sacrificing dedication and greed--lies at the heart of any nonprofit.  And in museums, the amount of passion and dedication that flows behind the scenes makes the situation even more personal and complicated. 

The stakes are high. But I think the answer is to remember not just how much you love museums, but that you as a Museo are worth a lot to the museum field.  You are “that man behind the curtain”, and sometimes in front of the curtain, too.  The shift toward layoffs and replacement with volunteers that seems to be looming in the UK is not one that can be ignored.

Around the globe, museums are on a precipice.  We need to move forward.  We need to innovate.  We need to pull together, darn it.

And so I return to where we left off in April – the Solutions Series.  Where are those ideas, Museos?  Where can we go from here, that will both further the museum industry as well as protecting museum workers from low pay or no pay? 

Who has a plan?  Please comment below or send us an email at museosunite @ gmail (dot) com.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Cuts Continue

Just a brief update on the trajectory UK museums seem to be on: Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt has announced a 2012 end to the Museums Libraries & Archives Council (MLA). I have always found the MLA's treatment of salaries (one of the many areas in which it has proposed proper museum standards) to be infinitely preferable to its US counterpart, the American Association of Museums (AAM). They may not have always been a voice of reason (though they mostly were/are), but they have always been a voice.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

NO, Prime Minister

NHM employee and London resident Jenna H-B sent us a link this morning about some major changes brewing thanks to P.M. Cameron's new policies. His "Big Society" initiative includes modifications... such as compensating for the 30% cut in museum funding with a push for more volunteers "to keep museums open." The pilot program will run out of the National Museum Liverpool and is already generating some (justified) criticism.
And this is what makes me especially angry. Volunteer programs are something that we in museums should be proud of. Now, because of their successes in this area, museums like NML are being targeted by this deeply cynical government program, that seeks to paper over the yawning cracks caused by spending cuts by dumping its responsibilities onto unpaid staff. And with minimal paid staff to supervise, you can forget any broader goals of education and training.
Chris also noted that a volunteer program is supposed to be a give and take. Museums are meant to offer their volunteers something--training, a sense of community--and not merely expect to take. Volunteers are a resource, just like paid employees. He provides a better summary:
Successful volunteer programs are a partnership, between professional museum staff and the wider community. We don't dump our workload on the volunteers; we like to think that we give them something of ourselves in return, transferring skills and knowledge that we've acquired through formal education and training. Nonetheless, it's not uncommon to encounter colleagues who look upon volunteer programs with deep suspicion. Unions, in particular, are not great fans of volunteers, claiming that they provide a way for employers to get work done without paying for it. Previously I'd always dismissed this as a knee-jerk reaction. But now, looking at Liverpool and wondering about other museums who may be offered the opportunity to participate in the "Big Society," I wonder if maybe I was wrong.

(I don't usually advocate reading internet comment sections--UNLESS YOU LIKE CAPS LOCK!!!!!!--but there are several literate and well-formulated responses below this article from The Independent. The article itself is also quite good.)

This is, of course, already happening in US, though perhaps less blatantly. We've never had a great deal of government support for museums, so museums have been struggling with reduced budgets since the current recession took hold. There haven't been any government initiatives to replace paid museum employees with volunteers, but many museums have taken these steps on their own. Anyone who follows a museum job board will have noticed the trends: more full-time positions became part-time or contract positions, and many museums began recruiting heavily for volunteers and interns.

What else are they supposed to do? In order to get money from funders you have to provide programming. To provide programming you have to have a staff. Most funders won't support salaries (though they will usually pay for employee time, but only as it relates to a project... hence the increase in part-time contract work) so this staff necessarily must be part-time, temporary, or volunteer. It's awful, but it's about keeping doors open. Because museum work is perceived to be "fun" rather than "work," people are expected to do it for free or nearly nothing. Fortunately in the U.S. this attitude--while ingrained--is not yet institutionalized. Something ere the end, some work of noble note may yet be done... but not if attitudes about museum salaries don't change dramatically.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Museos Unite on film!

This awesome video made by Dierdre McKee features ME (Kat) talking about Museos Unite and our salary survey.

Great work, Deirdre, on a great video.

Feel free to comment on the video, and any ideas expressed within, at the comments.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Equal Pay Day

In the USA, April 20th is Equal Pay Day. The museum world is dominated by women, so this topic is a relevant one for Museos Unite. Why not take a moment to check out the resources from the National Committee on Equal Pay, or one of M.U.'s previous posts on the topic: Salary Survey Post #3 - The Role of Gender and Salary Survey #4 - Experience and Gender. AAM's Center for the Future of Museums has also discussed this phenomenon in their August 2009 post Where the Boys Aren't. [1]

[1] Note that the opinions of the AAM & the CFM are not those of Museos Unite. In fact, both the CFM and MU have posts written by multiple authors, so the opinions of the CFM are probably not always the opinions of all members of the CFM, just as the opinions expressed in MU are not always shared by Kat and myself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Solutions Series 4: The Resilient Museum (Guest Post by Pete from

The preface of this article is available over at [Ed: Definitely read that first. - Kirsten]


The first stage would be a new position; one that aggressively pursues the autonomy of the [museum] community. In John Robb's words, this is to “protect from predatory and parasitical non-state actors” such as pan-global corporations and local militia. Whilst it may be true that banks have directly/indirectly threatened the financial stability of museums, it isn’t like there are armed gangs trying to co-opt museum service.

In the spirit of the argument, I would say large membership organisations and certain grant-making trusts are the closest comparison. I put into this category the AAM, the Museums Association, the Arts Council and any number of other redundant organisations where being included in/excluded from the club is more important than adaptability. They are either too unwieldy or unable to protect museums and their workers. The Resilient Museum community will look to replace these and provide the services themselves.

The same goes for political autonomy. A Resilient Museum cannot perform under them whims of a politician's promises. I wonder how many museum directors are scared to act for fear of alarming or alerting their politicos of how museums function in case they get pillaged.

How a museum can fully pry itself away is one of those complicated questions with a very complex answer:

Imagine a possible Resilient Museum Community for a moment. It would ideally consist of a low number of small to medium sized museums in order to be flexible and quick to act. For the greatest practical benefit they would be located relatively close together. An interesting debate could be had about whether or not these museums would need to have similar collection policies or if they could have diverse missions.

By staying mobile and intelligent, the Community would aim to become self sufficient. It can only achieve this if workers are central to the cause. This is a tribe. The tribe will work for the good of the Tribe. Everything within the Community is shared. All goods and intellectual property going out of the Community are sold. This includes good ideas, best practice and winning formulas.

The Community's legal structure would need to be rethought and a new relationship with the public would need to be negotiated. “Holding in the public trust” seems so ironic when a museum is sinking. That whole tenet would need a rethink as a Resilient Museum Community wouldn't need to be such martyrs to the cause. “Nonprofit” doesn't have to mean cap-in-hand piety. I'm not an expert and the research is confusing, but I wonder about the possibilities of museums run as worker cooperatives in order to motivate and empower the staff.

Next, a Resilient Museum Community would include shared collections and shared resources. Each museum could retains its own management and staff but otherwise make every effort to collaborate. The idea isn't to create a supermuseum; such mergers lead to staff layoffs. It would mean a deep-rooted partnership. Each museum in an example community of ten museums has nine other venues for a travelling exhibition. There are possibilities for ten permanent exhibitions from across all types of collections. This would keep the museums fresh and interesting with a high turnover of content. Bureaucratic barriers would also be reduced. Technological upgrades could be bought for the whole Community, hopefully at a lower bulk cost. The Community could make one amazing website and copy it to the others, make one amazing mobile app and brand it for each, put each collection into the same powerful API, make decent use of social networks for all… There are many possibilities. Volunteers could be organised and shared to an incredible degree of effectiveness. The Community would do everything itself or take steps to create its own production.

I can almost hand the next step over to Nick Poole's Second Proposal: Cut back the collections to sensible levels. I'm not talking about auctioning off the family silver, gold and Rembrandts. I'm talking about being able to make a serious decision about the fifteen replicas of the same bit of cheap trash. Not everything can be saved. Not everything needs to be saved. There's plenty of other stuff and new stuff being made all the time. Remove those object that really do not fit your collection policy. Auction them, sell them to other museums if needs be; make some money that goes right back into the museum. A Resilient Museum Community would allow for quick, efficient collection management. Resilience means having to reduce the costs of the heating/cooling/lighting of storage. Maybe a mass sell-off of storage buildings and the building of one single site. All the ethics and decision making committees can be run in-house. Each Community can have its own ethical guidelines and procedures. The consequences are the Community’s own.

With the structure in place, a highly efficient collection, a highly motivated staff and a defined physical area, there could be any number of profitable outcomes to be explored.


Pete writes at can follow him on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Solutions Series: Targeted Fundraising - a Guest Idea From Melanie Fraticelli

Sometimes the simplest, most direct solutions can be the best. Why not just ask for the money?

Museums hold fundraisers for a lot of things: new buildings, improved outreach programs, acquisitions, etc. There are even annual appeals that raise funds for general operating costs, which could theoretically be used to support and improve staff salaries if museums were so inclined. Still, people like to know where their money is going. Why not have a fundraiser specifically for improving staff salaries? For giving full-time benefits to hourly workers that work 40 hours per week?

Melanie's idea is to host either an event (for larger organizations) or an appeal (for smaller organizations) focused on the contributions of lower-level staff to museums. As museos we're acutely aware of the fact that museums couldn't run without us, but donors need to be reminded. It would be ideal if staff contributions could be quantified: per diem educators allow us to process X more school groups per year leading to an annual income of $Y; the people at the membership desk process Z memberships per year; the evaluators on the gallery floor have collected information that allowed us to improve processes as well as qualify for $X in grants. Melanie suggests that the employees themselves present a summary of what they do. Front line workers rarely get to meet donors and trustees, and vice versa, so this type of event could really open up a lot of eyes.

Fundraising only for lower level positions makes the assumption that museos in higher level (but non-Director) positions are making an adequate salary. We know from the salary survey (and common sense) that this isn't true. Still, improvements have to start somewhere. People often reject attempts at change because the changes aren't perfect; this is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. A small step would change things for the better and demonstrate that improvement is possible. Besides, if the event set up an endowment for salaries (another of Melanie's suggestions) then all staff could potentially benefit.

Do you have an idea for improving museum salaries? Want to write a guest post? Email us!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What is the job of a public historian worth?

Emily Hummel tipped us off to a recent discussion on H-Public about the worth of the job of a public historian. Continuing our nascent tradition of expanding on list-serv discussions, we’ve decided to pose the question to you here, with a twist: what is the job of a museo worth?

The replies to the original query focused on one of 2 things:

  1. The average government/National Park Service salaries paid for a public historian. (This is hardly indicative of the field at large, which is why working for the Smithsonian is seen as a dream job for many museos.)
  2. Various salary surveys that might be relevant to the job of a public historian. Someone linked to this survey of fees charged by Independent Museum Professionals in New England. It’s a useful (and free!) resource that I hadn’t encountered before.

These responses beg the question: is the average salary for your job really what your job is worth? In a purely economic sense, yes it is. [1] Your job is only worth what the market will bear. If you’re willing to work for $25,000/year then your job is worth $25,000/year; actually slightly more with payroll taxes and benefits taken into account.

But worth also has another definition that has nothing to do with dollars or pounds or Euros, although we can certainly try and put a number on it. When we romanticize our jobs and talk about the value museums provide in our communities and to society at large, this is the type of worth we’re talking about.

So the question is, does that worth have any correlation with monetary worth? Do we think that putting a price on what we do and the value we provide would sully our white-gloved hands? Are we frightened to place a number on that value because it would illustrate how dire the salary situation is, because we’re worth so much more than we’re getting? Is there a way to place a consistent value on the work we do and the services we provide? If the value provided isn’t strictly monetary, should it not be compensated? [2]

Again: what is the job of a museo worth? What are you worth?

[1] I know there are various strains of economic thought and all of them define value in slightly different ways. [1a] I took one microeconomics class in my freshman year of college and have been blissfully unaware of the names of these theories etc ever since. In fact, I’m pretty sure this would fall under macroeconomics not microeconomics, which means I’ve probably never heard about it at all. If you can supply a more precise definition for what I’m rambling about, you’re most welcome.

[1a] Note to self: learn about economics.

[2] Someone is going to comment—and I can almost predict who—to say that intangible values are compensated…intangibly. With the pride we feel in our work! And how much we love museums! Do me a favor, Unnamed Commenter. Spare me. This line of reasoning is BS. Come back and tell me this when you’ve figured out how to eat love, or pay the rent with love, or retire on love.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Solutions Series 2: The Offsite Museum Bar

This idea began when I tried to attend  one of the very cool Science on Tap events at National Mechanics in Philadelphia.  Each month, the science museums in the city take turns hosting a lecture at this bar, which sort of looks like it was decorated by a mad steampunk scientist/collector on the inside.  Anyway, back in January they hosted a lecture called “The Origin and Evolution of Beer” on one of the coldest nights of the winter.  When my friend and I arrived at the bar, we could not even get in the doors because people were poured out onto the front stairs. That’s how popular the event was—people were turned away.

So I got to thinking… these events are free.  What if they had charged for the lecture, even $3 per person?  What if the bar gave the museums a percentage of the bar take for the night (they might already do this, I have no idea actually)?  I know other topics have perhaps not been as popular, but even if they still had 30 people show up, it would be a money maker.

From there I thought – what if museums owned offsite bars?  I say offsite because I have been to events at museums where people are drinking.  I have seen a woman so drunk she actually reached out and TOUCHED A PICASSO.  Seriously.  Not good, my friends.  Also, the overhead costs of keeping a museum open (electricity, security, heating, whatever) are astronomical.  Not to mention the insurance risk!

Non profit organizations (like museums) can own for-profit businesses.  This bar would just be another source of revenue in the museum’s portfolio.  Many museums have offsite shops in retail centers either year-round or at the holidays.  These shops raise brand awareness and also bring in some cash.

Nina Simon wrote about why museums should have bars back in 2007.  Her take on them is that they both build audience awareness, and that they are excellent sites for high participation and fun.  I am unsure if she is promoting onsite or offsite bars, or both, but either way, it’s still a great idea.  Cotton on, museums!  There is money to be made here.

Now, imagine taking objects from the museum’s storage and moving them offsite to a secure bar location.  You can have one or two security guards on duty.  You can have secure, temp/humidity controlled cases.  You can pick lower risk but still interesting objects to display.  People will be able to get an eyeful as they sip great microbrews.

Then imagine the programming!  You could have neat lectures on the history of beer (obviously popular) or historical scandals, scientific breakthroughs or climate change.  Whatever. You could host independent musical acts. You could have authors do book signings.  Museum object trivia.  A historically accurate dinner menu from Victorian times [offsite at a tavern!] – maybe bar patrons would wear costumes!  The opportunities are endless.  And you can charge a fee for all of these events.  Obviously you will have to pay the people who are presenting these programs, but you can still make money.  (And maybe, museum members get in free/at a reduced rate/get a discount on beer.  Or even have “museum bar” memberships!)

Basically, you would have a cultural experience—outside the museum—that provided education, fun, and a chance to be close to museum collections.  Museos from all around the city would find it an interesting place to hang out, swap museum stories, and network.  Tourists could go there for a unique night out. Locals could count on it to be interesting, educational, and fun.

And the best part – all the profits go into a fund that goes to pay museo salaries. 

And maybe Museos would want to take part time extra jobs helping out there?  Museos could try jobs out that they don’t get to do at the institution proper, with the assistance of their colleagues at the home institution. A curator at the museum could function as a programmer for the bar (as it is a different business, they would be paid a separate amount by the bar).  A museum educator could design the exhibits.  A cataloguer could present a lecturer.  Museos could broaden their skill sets and have a chance to learn from their colleagues.  Alternately, the museos could keep their same assignments at the bar.  It would be up to the organization.  Regardless, it would let museos share what they do with a much broader audience – perhaps their friends who don’t necessarily frequent museums would be open to visiting a bar.  That may, in turn, inspire those friends to check out the remainder of the collection at the museum proper.

So this idea combines museum collections, alcohol, fun activities, and potentially large profits in a secure location that would be (hopefully) cheaper to have open than the museum itself.  Yes, there are costs involved in opening a bar (renting a location, staffing, insurance, liquor licenses) but hopefully this bar could make a profit in the end.

Thoughts?  Also, does any museum want me to consult on the bar they are now planning on opening?  I am definitely available…

Friday, March 26, 2010

Call for guest posts - Solutions Series

Hi Museos!

You have seen our first post in the "Solutions Series" about the Robin Hood Rule. This series of posts is designed to answer the question "How can museums make more money so that they have more money to give to low-paid Museos?" We have another post coming up soon. But two crazy money making schemes are not going to save Museo salaries.

Nay! We need many more than two ideas! At least three or four!

And we are turning to you lovely folks out there in the interwebs to contribute. No idea is too crazy (you know this, you read our blog)! No length requirements. Or, if you have an idea and don't feel like writing the whole thing, just tell us and we can expand on it and give you credit.

Does this sound like something fun? You know it does. Email us your ideas/articles/whatever -- museosuniteblog at gmail dot com.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lunchtime Video – Museums and Salaries

The trouble with the online museum community is that it’s so fractious. The people who use the many industry list-servs don’t necessarily use Twitter or blogs, and vice versa. A productive conversation using one of these mediums might not reach the users of the other mediums. Museos might also focus their reading on a particular topic, such as historic preservation, interactive design, or education. This is understandable. The internet is a huge place and our free time is limited. But what happens when we look in unexpected places?

We find new people voicing similar sentiments in a variety of mediums.

Today, because it’s lunchtime, here is a video on the subject of museums and salaries. (Don’t lie to me museos. I know you take a working lunch!) It was put out by the Museums Association. Their YouTube account seems largely dormant, which is a shame considering this video, “Is your salary commensurate with your experience?”:

What about you, Museos? How do you think your salary stacks up in terms of your education and experience? It isn’t a question we asked directly on the salary survey, but it would be interesting to know how you feel.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Museums Advocacy Day

Today is Museums Advocacy Day in DC. 

You can follow along with the conversation on Twitter.

One of the recent AAM tweets caught my eye:

AAMers: Don't think you have to work for a museum in order to advocate for them. Your opinion might matter even more. #MuseumsAdvocacyDay

I would like to pose a question to the AAM in response to that statement.  If you acknowledge the important voice of people who don’t work for museums, then why do you not have a membership category for them?  People who have volunteered for or studied museums in the past (but do not currently have an affiliation with a museum) may still want to join the AAM, but there is no category for “museum fan” or “museum studies graduate, unemployed.”

Under the current categories, I am not eligible to join the AAM.  I just find that a bit strange, considering how much of my time I spend thinking about museums.

Dear AAM – if you recognize that Museum Advocates come in all shapes and sizes, then you need to extend AAM membership to Museos of all types.

Regardless, good luck with Museums Advocacy Day!  Museos Unite supports the cause/revolution.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Salary and Experience using Salary Survey Data

In an effort to keep our arguments backed up with solid data, we return to the salary survey.

It is time that we revealed to you, Museos, how much the average museum salary goes up per year.  There is good news, and there is bad news.

Good news:  it does go up!

Bad news: it really doesn’t go up that much!

[Disclaimerzzz: Sample size was 99 full time people.  We didn’t have responses for every year, so that explains the gaps between the dots. This chart goes through the first 25 years since that is where we had the most data, although we had responses up to 34 years in the field.  There were too many gaps as we got farther along to really have the data be representative.]


The peak at 8 years is due to two of our respondents who have been in the field 8 years seem to have really high paying jobs.  The peak at 25 years was due to there being few responses at that year, and they are obviously doing really well!

The trend line reveals the real rate of change of Museo salaries.

y = 1124x + 32764

For those of you who maybe forget what that means, basically it translates into saying that the average starting salary (the y-intercept) is around $32,764, and for every year you work over that, the average increase (the slope) is $1,124 more per year.

Except that our trend line is obviously thrown by those [3] people earning more than $100,000, our “outliers.”  So keep that in mind.  Look more at what the actual data looks like.  For most people, the reality is far below the trend line.


Keep in mind for the future: a larger sample size will help us get closer to the truth.  We hope that you will participate next year when we repeat our great experiment!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Solutions Series 1: The Robin Hood Rule

Here is the first entry in our previously announced “solutions series,” in which Museos Unite presents options (aka crazy ideas) that could be utilized by museums to remedy the whole really-low-paid-museos issue.

Just to review the situation: we have Museos all over the world who are coming out of graduate programs in Museum Studies--having racked up student loans—who are then forced to volunteer (unpaid), intern (unpaid or low paid), take part time work (low paid and no health care), or even get a full time job that offers a wage below the living wage. This unfortunate situation leads to Museos feeling undervalued, overworked, resentful, and angry. In some cases, Museos with a lot of potential have to leave the field they love because they cannot afford to work for free.

Yes, people sometimes have to leave a field they love and make a difficult choice to take other work, and many people point fingers and accuse these discouraged Museos of “not loving museums enough” or “caring about money too much.” Any Museo who has been following this blog since we started in August knows this argument well, and has probably gotten frustrated that the people who are making these arguments must actually be on the flip side: they must have some sort of financial support in place that allows them to throw this argument around.

This brings me to what I would call the “Robin Hood Rule.” The original idea, “rob from the rich and give to the poor,” is slightly related, but my idea is more derived from the very argument I brought up above. The two elements (1) that someone who works in museums or nonprofits should not be in it for the money and (2) that if someone works in a museum and is dedicated to its mission, then they should accept a lower pay than people in other fields because they love what they are doing. I say, let’s take this argument and instead of applying it to entry level jobs paying $25,000 , let’s instead apply it to the museum directors at the top who are making $250,000.

That’s right. Use that exact argument they are throwing down at the entry level museos and throw it back in their faces. If they love museums so much, then why do they need a high six-figure salary? Or even, in some cases, a SEVEN figure salary? Isn’t the fact that they get to be in such a great place enough? Or that they get to interact with an incredible collection, or the admiring public?

Therefore, I propose that museums cap the amount that directors make. I would say there is no need for a museum director (or any employee) to make more than $100,000. Sure, in some large cities maybe they would need a cost of living adjustment, but let’s be reasonable. If you take the extra money that person was getting and then redistribute it down to the other salaries, you’d never have anyone starting at a salary below the living wage. Let’s say the lowest salary able to be offered would be $36,000 to someone with an undergrad degree and $40,000 to someone with a grad degree. Those are very fair starting salaries.

“But then the best people would leave the field or go to other museums!” you say. Oh really? If the money is so important to them, then should they be in charge of the museum? Just think. There are hundreds of applicants for a entry level museo job these days, which is why they can afford to offer low pay. There is ALWAYS someone who will work at that lower pay. How many great Museos do you think would be willing to say “heck yeah, I’d be a museum director for $100,000!” And then if they decided they wanted more money after a while, they could go ahead and leave the field, thus opening the position up to new talent who is again willing to accept a very fair wage.

For example, let’s use the biggest museum in my home city, The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). The director made $338,873 in 2008 ( If we take that down to the proposed $100,000 then we have a stunning $238,873 to redistribute. Now, if I add up the 8 highest paid employees (who all make over $100,000) and limit all of them down to $100,000, then guess how much money we have to throw around?

$771,352. From eight people.

If we assume there are a bunch of people at the bottom making $20,000 (which is probably not that far from the truth), then we could raise their pay up to $40,000 with this money… dramatically changing their lives from living below the poverty level to having a very good starting salary. How many of those low paid Museos could be helped with the extra [excessive] pay from the top Museos?

38 people could go from $20,000 to $40,000.

Even more dramatically, let’s delete the above option and just do this one. How many unpaid interns could be hired at a starting salary of $36,000?

21 people could go from unpaid to making $36,000.

And all of this because 8 people took pay cuts that limited them to a wage that's incredibly reasonable for living in Philadelphia.

There are actually many nonprofits with a structure like this. I talked to a man last month who runs a nonprofit, and he explained that everyone in the company makes between $40,000 and $90,000, no more and no less. No one is struggling to live, and no one is buying a yacht with golden toilets.

How can museums be a medium for discussion of social fairness if they are operating just like any huge, multi-national corporation instead of the nonprofits that they are? Ethically managed companies often have limits on what senior management can make, so why don’t museums join in?


NB – I know that for many small museums, no one is making even $40,000. I know this argument doesn’t apply to them. I’m going to think more on how to fix those things, but I think if the big museums started making changes, there would somehow be a trickle down effect. Does anyone have any ideas about that?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Ever Happened to the Salary Survey?


What happened is that we forgot about it completely. Kidding! It’s just that calculating and tabulating takes a lot of time, and calculating and tabulating the results that people are most interested in seeing takes even longer. Logistically it makes more sense to hold off until everything is calculated, but we were so excited at first that we didn’t realize this. Now we’re putting the results posts on hold while we crunch the numbers and figure things out. When we’re done you’ll have a veritable glut of data to look forward to.

Image via Toothpaste for Dinner.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Tipping Point: Part 2 – The Rebuttal

Kat is away this week so you’ll be hearing from me a lot over the next couple of days.

This is, first and foremost, my reaction to a prominent vein of thought that I can’t stand. It is, secondarily, a continuation of the debate started on the AAM-EMP list-serv and summarized in The Tipping Point: Part 1.

The vein of thought I can’t stand is the one that says sit down and shut up, this is the way things are done. Salaries have always been low. That vase has always been displayed there. We’ve always considered people over 40 our main audience. We’ve always interpreted things this way. If you want more (money, responsibility, opportunities for training and advancement) then maybe you’re the one who needs to reconsider (your career path, your attitude, how much you love museums.) It certainly can’t be the status quo that needs to be reconsidered! After all, things have always been this way.

There were several people chiming in to the conversation claiming that docents who didn't get a lot of tips would be envious of docents who did and that would be bad for workplace morale. Or that unpaid docents would be given the "poorly tipping" shifts and the paid one would get the better shifts. These responses ignore just how rare a tip is in a museum environment. Unless tipping culture (that old chestnut!) were to change drastically, neither of these situations would present a problem. If unpaid docent Horatio gets a tip at 2pm on Tuesday and unpaid docent Wolfgang (working a Tuesday morning shift) does not, the most likely result (if they discuss this at all) is that they'll figure out if it was something about the tour or the visitors themselves that prompted the tip. If it was the sheer awesomeness of the tour, Wolfgang might incorporate elements of Horatio's tour next time around. They’re probably not going to duke it out for the Tuesday afternoon shift.

I don’t want to dive too deeply into discussions of class divisions and privilege because we have an entry on that topic coming up next week, but this is another element that is relevant to the discussion. Something that one poster (we will call her Gertrude) brought up repeatedly was that museos are professionals. They are not in the service trades. One does not tip professionals, it just isn’t done!

I disagree with the premise that museos should not be tipped because they are professionals for two reasons. One is that THAT notion is based entirely on an outdated class system. The idea that it isn’t the work or the effort that matters, but the amount of education and preparation that one had to undergo in order to enter the profession strikes me as BS. That ties into my second reason: if someone isn’t paid like a “professional” then they aren’t reaping the benefits of a “professional.” It is presumably these benefits that caused the initial distinction between who got tips and who didn’t. (I can hear the Gertrudes of the world crying out “But the minimum wage! Won’t you spare a thought for the minimum wage?” There is a difference between the minimum wage and a living wage. “Professionals” should be earning the latter, not the former.)

I’m not saying that I believe museos should be tipped, but that was never what this conversation was about. It was about whether or not tour guides can keep unsolicited tips. I think it’s pretty simplistic to chalk up this ENTIRE discussion to the history of tipping. That was what Gertrude kept doing, and arguing with her on those terms got the conversation nowhere. We’re at an unprecedented place with museum employment (or at least we’re trying to get there. Who wants a museum sector comprised solely of people from privileged backgrounds?) so we can’t lean so heavily on precedent.

This isn’t about the history of tipping, but it is about who has traditionally been able to work in museums. It is about the volunteers and docents who are trying to get a foot in the door. They don’t all come from money and they can’t all quietly pay their dues while making minimum wage for years on end. They aren’t selfish or unworthy of the museum profession because money is a concern for them or a deciding factor in where they work. (I should write “we” since I include myself in this number. I have no trust fund or wealthy spouse to fall back on if my job doesn’t pay the bills.) Money is a concern for people, even museos, whether we’d like to talk about it or not.

The root of this conversation is compensation. What is a good tour worth? What is a museo’s labor worth? These are questions we’re concerned with here at Museos Unite, and we welcome any thoughts you might have on the subject.

(This was written in spurts over the course of several days, so my apologies if it’s a bit rambling.)

The Tipping Point: Part 1 – The Recap

Trivia fact: I usually delete the AAM-EMP list-serv emails without reading them. Between that, MUSEUM-L, my feed reader, and Twitter I sometimes go into Museum Discussion Overload. They’re overwhelming, and frankly not always that useful. Want to know the best way to conserve 19th century baby shoes? There’s someone out there who will helpfully inform you to Google “conserving 19th century baby shoes.”

But on Wednesday there was a thread title that caught my attention: Tipping Museum Tour Guides. The original poster (who we will call Bob. If you subscribe to the list-serv over at Google Groups you can read the entire conversation, but we aren’t going to replicate it here. Far too long!) laid out the situation as such: He just started working as a museum tour guide. While his manager has not said anything to him and there is nothing written in the employee handbook, Bob has heard through the grapevine that if he receives a tip at the end of the tour he must give it to the museum. This didn’t make sense to him, since he is the one providing the tour. In the immortal words of Newsies: “Headlines don’t sell papes, newsies sell papes!” (I apologize; I couldn’t resist.) The visitors who are doing the tipping intend for the tip to go to the guide, not the museum.

There was a lot of back and forth on the issue. Some quick excerpts:

  • “In the museum field we are usually subject to intellectual property rules and that the information you impart on your tour is owned by the museum you work for and therefore tips on such should also go to them. Unfortunately one of the downsides of museum work is that we do it for the love of history (or art) and not for the financial gain.”
  • “I have spoken to both museum professionals and non-professional museum goers in the past few hours (in completely casual, non-scientific manner), and the museum professionals are saying it is up to the individual museum (some have a don't ask/don't tell policy), meaning there is no hard-and-fast rule, but donation of tips is a generally- accepted practice. However, all the museum goers I spoke to vehemently felt that any tip handed to a guide is specifically intended to go to the guide.”
  • “It is reasonable to assume that if a visitor wants to donate to the museum, they will do so (and may have already done so, and in turn will receive the tax deduction they would expect as a donor), and if they want to show appreciation to the guide, they will do that. It is also reasonable to assume the visitor would rather have the control over where the tip goes, and may feel resentment towards a museum that takes tips away from its employees (if they were privy to that knowledge). So, if a museum values a donor's intent, they would either let the guide keep the tips, or verbalize the tip-donation practice into the tour at some point. To do otherwise would be dishonest, so my museum-going sources say.”
  • “You are either getting paid to do your tour or you are a volunteer and get personal satisfaction for doing the tour. You should do a good job because you have pride in yourself and your museum. Expecting a tip is like "paying for a smile" as one blogger put it.”
  • “It seems rather unethical for a museum to let you accept tips, but then turn around and require you to "donate" the money back to them. I would check into the legality of your museum's practice in this matter. And, tipping is not a matter of who "owns" the information intellectually, but instead is given for the quality of the delivery of the tour--it doesn't matter if you had a script, you still have to be personable, accurate, engaging, etc. (this is a personal decision, in the same way you would tip a waiter that you thought had a welcoming personality and whose service you liked).”
  • “Generally, the guide is provided the tools (i.e. training) to make the museum "come alive" by the museum educators. Also, if monetary gain is a large incentive for someone, that person may wish to re-evaluate their choice to pursue a career in the museum profession.”
  • Again, for more details subscribe to the EMP list-serv.

I admit, for someone who thinks about museum compensation pretty regularly I never spared much thought for tipping. I’ve always put any tips I receive while leading public programs right back into the museum’s cashbox. I wrote a no tipping clause into the docent handbook. However silly or poorly thought out, this is the standard.

But should it be? Like so many things in museums, the status quo hasn’t been carefully evaluated, but it’s still venerated. “This is the way it is and if you disagree or want more then maybe you should reconsider your profession.” As if museums are above contempt; as if museums are on such a pedestal that merely working there should be compensation enough.

It turns out that Bob is working part-time in a house museum for about $8/hour. He mentioned that a dollar or two would really help him out and put him closer to a living wage, although it wouldn’t make as much difference to the museum. But there are people who asserted that Bob should still donate the money to the museum. Because it is the done thing. And because maybe, just maybe, that will help the museum make enough money to increase his wages!

The nerve. That is an insult to anyone with a) a sense of what it means to work in a museum without a financial safety net b) a sense of how museum economics actually work. Trickle down much? Keeping my replies diplomatic has been a huge struggle. I don’t know if I can sustain it throughout the next entry, which is part of the reason I’m splitting this into two. (The other part is because sheesh, this is long!) In the interim, why don’t you let us know your feelings in the comments section?

Stay tuned for The Tipping Point: Part 2 – The Rebuttal

Edited to add: Museumist did an excellent recap of the situation that you might like to check out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Link Roundup: Friday 26 February

We've been salary survey focused lately, but I think it's time for a link roundup. What with the economy, jobs bills, healthcare summits etc the media has picked up on a lot of interesting stories. We've already posted some of these on our Twitter account, which you should follow if you aren't already! We're mostly following institutional accounts (news services, museums, unions) at the moment, but we'd love to use it to interact with you.

Here some snowy day reading for those of you in the northeastern US, and some Friday reading for the rest of you:

U-Cubed, the union for the unemployed: This is an idea I find fascinating. Unemployed workers are a huge bloc, and organizing gives them a voice in the many policy debates that affect them. It also demonstrates a working model for a union representing people across a variety of locales who do not share a workplace/employer. (Granted they have backing from a "real" union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Money and an extant organizational structure help immensely!)

A conversation with's Rusty Rueff (video): A frank discussion of why so many people are reluctant to talk about salaries in the current economic climate. has some interesting salary data for museums, too. It's certainly more accurate than the nonsense reported by sites like etc.

The following links come from the AAM-CFM Newsletter. You should subscribe

A fuzzy picture: U.S. jobs projections for curators leave museum directors scratching their head: Sometimes it seems like sources outside the museum sector (, the US Department of Labor) don't quite know what's going on with museums. This is one of those times. 

US workforce shifting away from full-time employment and towards contract work: This one is pretty self-explanatory, so I'll indulge in a bit of editorializing. It's all well and good when you're choosing contract work because it's more flexible, but it's quite another when it's inflexible and without benefits, yet you choose it because it's the only option in your industry. OK, I'm done.

Whaling museum apprenticeship program launched: I think this method of training museum professionals has a lot of potential to overhaul the current system of "Masters degree + 3 to 5 years of experience = entry level position." What do you think?

We'll be back with more survey results and editorializing next week. Enjoy your weekend, and stay dry/warm if you're caught in the "snowicane" like I am in New York.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Salary Survey Post #4: Experience and Gender

People have been wondering how the gender breakdown we posted yesterday aligned with experience and roles within the museum. We didn’t ask respondents for their specific titles, just the general department they worked in, so this was a difficult thing to quantify. (People making gobs of money sometimes put “administrative” and sometimes put “collections” etc, so there wasn’t a clear way to differentiate among directors, head curators,very experienced secretaries etc. Clearer position titles: added to the list of future improvements!)

What I did was break down all respondents into 4 main categories, based (very roughly) on their level of experience. The divisions are somewhat arbitrary; I might run the data again with 0-5 years as entry level just to see if that normalizes the male salary averages a little. (More on that in a bit.) As you can see salaries do increase over time, albeit very slightly. An experienced museum professional can only expect to make an average salary equivalent to a high entry level marketer. [1]


The raw data chart is too large to include here, but here are the average salaries for each group. They were calculated using the high end of the range (i.e. $25,000-$30,000 would be calculated as $30,000) each respondent provided. For museos making less than $10,000 I used $10,000, and for those who said they were unpaid I used $0. The actual numbers might be slightly lower, but as Kat stated in the first entry there’s not a huge difference in the data if you use the low end of, the average of, or the high end of the range.

The “All Museos” category includes the 7 responses that didn’t specify male or female.


It’s difficult to say whether or not we had a good sample of males relative to the females. From my subjective point of view I think our ratio of male to female respondents (21:71 for full-time [2]) is roughly correct, but my workplace is all female and my museum studies program was only about 10% male. My personal experience might not be representative, although I doubt anyone would argue against the idea that the majority of museos are female.

While the overall ratio of male to female respondents might be correct, the ratio at each level is not. The number of males at each level had a tremendous effect on their average salaries. A smaller sample of males meant that each male salary had a disproportionate effect on the average. This can be seen below.


Female museo salaries and overall museo salaries rise at a steady (but slow) rate. Male salaries have crazy peaks and valleys all over the place. (Those are technical terms, naturally.) Maybe Kat will swoop in and calculate the rate of change for us at some point. As for me, I’m all mathed out for the week!

[1] Data arrived at via a highly scientific method called “poll your similarly-aged friends who work in marketing.”

[2] I knew I forgot something! This entry includes part time workers as well as full time workers. When I run the data again I’ll remove part timers so that our data is consistent across the board.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Salary Survey Post #3: The Role of Gender

So everyone says men get paid more than women.  This fact is well documented across the board.  But in an industry where women dominate in numbers, is this still true?


Now, disclaimer – when breaking things down by gender, for full time people we found that there were 71 female respondents, 21 male respondents, and the rest did not say if they were male or female.  So I am aware that comparing a data set of 71 and one of 21 is not completely accurate (although representative of the population in question), but heck yes, we are gonna do it anyways, folks.

The salary averages male vs. female (remember that our overall salary average was $40,360.76):

Average Male Salary: $48,452.38

Average Female Salary: $36,338.03

(That means the average male salary is ~$12,000 more than the average female salary).

To be fair, we can’t really make this bold claim due to the sample size and such.  When I made the numbers into percentages, we get this graph, which is a bit closer to the truth…


So there you have it folks.  You can see the “bell curve” shape for both males and females.  You can see that the male’s center point  is around $10,000 more than females.

‘Nuff said.

We are going to further later in the week (or next week, as both Kirsten and I are having hugely busy weeks with our actual jobs) with gender and satisfaction, salary and experience, salary and education, etc.  I will also go deeper into breaking down gender and salary and years experience as much as possible with such a limited data set. 

Thoughts on the whole gender and salary thing?  Why, when there are 3/4 (or more…does anyone have a figure on this?) females in the field, males are still paid more than us on average?  Angry yet?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Salary Survey Post #2: Satisfaction Levels

The numbers we put out yesterday shocked some people and left others cold. Obviously when you’re working with a self-selecting sample you’re going to have some built-in biases. For example, as Steven Lubar pointed out our “high end” isn’t actually as high as things go. There are much higher salaries reported and publically available on 990s; for example, the Director of the MoMA recently pulled down a salary of $2,111,000 as Kat pointed out back in December.

Of course, the most highly paid people are unlikely to have stumbled on our little survey. Since we are a blog and most people found us via Twitter, our sample is going to align most closely with the demographic of most Twitter-using museos. Twitter’s main demographic is aged 18-34, so it’s safe to assume that many of our respondents come from this group that the AAM would call “Emerging Museum Professionals.” [1] We have to take a lot of these factors into account before we can present the majority of the results [2], so we’re going to keep things simple at first.

Now that we know what the basic salary range was, let’s see how satisfied people were. [Note: Satisfaction level has not yet been plotted against the salaries themselves. This is general level of satisfaction. The rest will happen, I promise!]

As you can see, on a scale from 1-5 most museos rate their salary satisfaction a 3. This is again taken only from respondents who are working full time [3].


To present the data in another form, that’s fully 33% of the respondents. And as for mostly satisfied, i.e. a 4 0r a 5 out of 5? Just over 25% of the people who took our survey.


This breakdown strikes me as a little odd when compared to yesterday’s salary data. Do these cases surprise you?

  • The Chicago area collections specialist making between $20,000-$25,000 who rates his or her satisfaction as a 3?
  • The administrator with 25 years of experience who rates his or her roughly $35,000/year salary a 4 out of 5?
  • The educator with 12 years of experience who is rates his or her $35,000-$40,000 salary a 3 out of 5?
  • The full-time exhibits specialist making $10,000-$20,000 (full-time at minimum wage falls into this range) who rates his or her satisfaction a 3?

Here’s the part where I start to editorialize.

It seems like although people are unwilling to say they're satisfied with what they're earning, they're not willing to say they think it's terrible either. But from an objective standpoint? It's terrible. You should be angrier.

I feel like someone needs to grant you permission explicitly. I'm going to be a jerk and do it.

You have permission to be angry. Not just about salaries, or the lack of advancement opportunities. You have permission to be angry about anything. You have permission to be angry at museums as an institution. You have permission to be angry at your graduate school program. You have permission to be angry at your employer. You have permission to be angry at me for having the sheer gall to grant you permission to express your feelings. You have permission to be angry about anything.

More importantly, you have permission to voice your discontent. You don't have to pretend things are hunky dory when they're not. That's not how changes get made. You shouldn't have to worry that some potential future employer might stumble on your blog or your Twitter or a comment you wrote and decide that your refusal to deny your (fully justifiable) anger disqualifies you from working at their museum. That by saying "Yes, museum salaries are insufficient across the board and I feel I deserve better pay, more benefits, and greater advancement opportunities" you will price yourself out of the museum job market entirely. That's not how changes get made. If you feel like pay is insufficient but are both willing to accept that pay and unwilling to speak out against it, do you honestly believe things will improve? Optimism is wonderful, but hoping for a better future without doing anything precludes change.

I'm not encouraging you to riot or go on strike or do anything you're uncomfortable with, I'm just asking you to be wholehearted about what you're feeling. Discuss low salaries. Acknowledge that they're low. Who's going to do it if you don't?

Let’s take one last look at the numbers.


The average reported level of satisfaction for these 99 full-time museos was 2.78 out of 5. That’s ever so slightly closer to dissatisfied than satisfied. There’s hope for museos yet.

[1] Another question on the survey asked how many years respondents had been working in the museum field. We don’t have that graphed yet, but the answer is around 5.581 years on average.

[2] By that I mean that I need to wait on Kat to do these things, because she is the brains behind this salary survey. I am the opinionated hothead who editorializes, she comes bearing scientific data. What a team!

[3] This is something that will be ironed out in future surveys. There are many questions that require clarification. In the future we will probably ask for part-time wages to be stated as hourly earnings, not as an annual salary. There was no clear way to distinguish between museos who responded with actual earnings versus those who responded with their pro rata salary, or between people who were essentially full-time but paid hourly and people who worked 10 hours a week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Salary Survey Post # 1: Preliminary Salary Analysis

Hi Museos.  Okay, so here is the moment you’ve been waiting for.  I am going to start with just our full time museos as far as salary analysis. 

Let me explain one assumption I had to make, as this affects the results.  For people who reported their exact salary, we used that number.  For everyone else, we used the middle number of the range.  In actuality, this does not make a huge difference in our calculations (I recalculated based on using the low- and high-ends of the range, just to check).  The difference on either side is about $2,700.

That said, let’s get down to our very first, simple analysis.

For full time museos (n=99)

Mean (average) Salary: $40,360.76
Standard Deviation: $23,426

Mode (most often occurring) Salary: $30-35,000


Median (number in the middle of the data set): $34,250

Range, or the infamous "Wage Discrepancy"
(difference between lowest reported exact salary and highest reported exact salary): $94,102.50


So what does this all mean in plain English?

1 – the average salary is about $40,000.  That is for respondents ranging from just starting out to working for less than a year up to 34 years, people.  THAT IS INSANELY LOW considering that range of time working.  Think about it for a minute… think about the fact that some people are making over $100,000 (as seen above).  That should pull up the average.  It IS pulling it up.  To a mere $40,000. 

2 – The most often reported salary is somewhere between $30-35,000.  That is $5-10,000 below the average salary.  You do the math.  Museos are more often paid less than the average salary.

3 – The median of our data set is $34,250, which makes sense.  That means if you were to lay out all the reported salaries in a row, the middle number would be $34,250, with half the people making more than that and half the people making less than that.  NOTICE: our median is ~$6,000 below our average.  That means there are more people earning below average than above average.

4 – The ‘wage discrepancy’ which was the inspiration behind the whole salary survey is HUGE.  $94,102.50.  That is the difference between our top earner and our lowest earner. 

5 – Take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror, seriously.  Are you hoping/expecting that someday you will be up in that top 10% (which is, interestingly, making more than $57,000 – only 10% of those we surveyed make more than that!!!)?  Do you think that staying quiet, keeping your head down, doing more work and getting paid less will get you there? 

Or is it time to start a revolution?


Conclusions: There is a big difference between high pay and low pay in museums.  More people are earning below the average salary than above it.  The average salary for a museo is not that high, really.


Comments? Are you surprised? Not? Do you agree or disagree with these results?  Remember, this is meant to be a starting point for our analysis, so never fear, more details to come!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Which I Make Awkward Transitions Between Topics: Salary Survey Update + Museos On Strike

Alas, I don't come bearing survey results. Though we are anxious to release the data, our resident statistics guru (that would be Kat) is busy crunching numbers and making pretty, pretty graphs. It takes a little time! We want to make sure everything is as good as it can be before we share any of it, but rest assured that you will see the first post on the subject this week.

I don't think any of us are expecting to be shocked by whatever the survey reveals to be the average museum salary. It's probably going to be low, but above the minimum wage. Right? Well that really depends on who responded. If some of the attendants at the National Gallery in London took the survey their pay--which is 60 pence per hour below a living wage--would certainly have an effect on the data. Their insultingly low wages plus long hours (between 50-60 hours per week) prompted them to stage a two hour walk out on Tuesday. Management has refused to negotiate with the striking members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, claiming that the museum cannot afford to pay them any more.

Of course that's the excuse. That's always going to be the excuse. As I said in a previous entry, museums are always going to have to make difficult decisions about where to allocate funds. If Museos don't speak out and insist that their labor is a valuable resource that's worthy of investment, then museums are always going to allocate their funds elsewhere. They're always going to be unable to afford to pay a decent wage. Not only must employees be valuable, but they also have to be willing to stand up and advocate for how valuable they are.

With their actions the attendants at the National Gallery have made the statement that they are valuable. They've demonstrated that their services are required. When they weren't on duty the museum had to shut the majority of its galleries! Museums need Museos even more than they need collections.

We first became aware of this strike via this post, Culture and a Living Wage. J at the Attic muses:
It seems to me to be a variation on the old conflation between intangible cultural value and economic free-market value. The argument is not so much that these workers just deserve to be paid for what they do, but that what they do is somehow worth more... Isn't it sad that museum workers have to resort to these arguments? Is as if we don't believe that our labour is equal to the labour of other workers, but that we have to somehow wrap ourselves in the aura of the art in order to ennoble and promote our work? Kind of like stay-at-home mums: they are valued not because their work is work, but because their work is connected to the sacred mysteries of raising the next generation...
We agree. Work is work. It should be fairly compensated regardless of its innate nobility or how much of a "dream job" it is.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Survey Teaser…

Before our big salary survey, which is now closed and being tallied, we ran a one-question poll on the sidebar of the blog.  The single question, “Do you feel fairly financially compensated for your museum work?”, was mostly intended to get the ball rolling and to get people thinking.  We had 23 responses, and the results are seen below.


An overwhelming 52% said an outright “no.”  Only 3 people out of 23 said “yes.”  That, fellow Museos, speaks volumes.  WHY IS NO ONE ELSE SHOUTING ABOUT THIS?  WHY IS EVERYONE JUST ACCEPTING LOW PAY? WHERE IS THE REVOLUTION?

Oops.  My caps lock got stuck for a minute.  Strange.

Thank you to all who participated!  There is another poll along the sidebar about volunteering.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Final Plea

Museos, unite!

You only have 60 hours left before our salary survey closes at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, February 14th. 

Please, take a moment to answer these quick questions.  If you have not already, please take a moment to FWD it to your coworkers or friends in the industry.

Here’s a taste of what will be revealed once we crunch the numbers:

  • the average salary for a Museo at various stages of their careers
  • whether MA education or years of experience really get you higher pay
  • how satisfied Museos are with their salaries
  • whether gender plays a role in Museo pay

And, excitingly, we will try to assess the data to figure out the best combination of education, experience, area of study, and location to figure out the BEST PAYING MUSEO JOB. 

It' won’t be easy, dear friends.  We are at 99 responses.  We would ideally like 120 responses by Sunday at Midnight.

Can you help us?  It’s the results that everyone will be talking about in the end… don’t you want to be able to say that you helped us get to the bottom of the Museo Salary Mystery?

Take the survey.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Last call to participate in the first Museos Unite salary survey, plus an advocacy update.

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.