Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the (Muse)Union

[Image via**]

Yesterday US President Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union Address. As anticipated a large portion of his speech was devoted to the economy, including two of Museos Unite's favorite topics, job creation and debt forgiveness.

So what specifically can we expect to see in the next 3 years? And how will this affect museos?

In terms of job creation Obama is focusing on "green jobs", infrastructure, and small businesses.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from, who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010, and that's why I'm calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do — in small businesses, companies that begin when — companies that begin when an entrepreneur — when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss. Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession, and they're ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pa., or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they're mostly lending to bigger companies. Financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country, even those that are making a profit.

So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I'm also proposing a new small business tax credit — one that will go to over 1 million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, and provide a tax incentive for all large businesses and all small businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Most museums are small businesses, albeit nonprofit ones. This is more Kat's area of expertise than it is mine, but my impression is that because nonprofits are already tax exempt any incentives to hire new workers or raise wages would not apply to museums. I could be mistaken here. The jobs bill as it was passed by the House does not seem to mention nonprofits, but of course the bill is not yet in its final form. Perhaps there will be other allowances made to encourage increased hiring and better wages in nonprofits. We can only hope.

Or can we do more than hope? One of the benefits of belonging to a labor union is that unions lobby for their members' interests. US museos may not have a union, but we do have an advocacy organization: the AAM. The AAM has done an excellent job of motivating its members to stand up against the Coburn Amendment. It has provided a free online webinar on museum advocacy and even explicitly outlines its legislative agenda, including nonprofit issues.

We at Museos Unite call on the AAM to reevaluate their legislative priorities, particularly those pertaining to nonprofit issues. We need to ensure that museums and other nonprofits are not left out of the jobs bill. In the interim, all US museos (and other nonprofit employees) should make use of the resources available on the AAM website to reach out to their elected officials. Whether this effort is backed by our largest advocacy organization or not, someone needs to make a stand. We need to raise our voices and tell Congress that we don't want to be left out of this new cycle of job creation. Nonprofits also need incentives to create new jobs and increase wages, because they're certainly not doing either of these things without them.***

It seems to me that Congress should be interested in promoting nonprofit employment, if only so that the debt forgiveness program isn't simply empty rhetoric. Here's what Obama said in last night's speech:
And let's tell another 1 million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years — and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.
It's worth noting that this debt forgiveness program has actually been in place since 2007, but who is included under the plan remains hazy. "Public service" is a vague term that may or may not include nonprofit employees. No firm definitions have been forthcoming because no one can really benefit from the program until 2017. This is unfortunate, as I for one would like to know if I'm better off making larger payments (so I accrue less interest) or smaller ones (so more of my debt is ultimately forgiven) in the interim. Alas.

How do you think the proposals from last night's State of the Union will affect museos? Will the AAM step up? Will you? Let us know in the comments.

**If you don't understand the graphic, you must be forgiven for not following the thousands of internet memes that go around these days. (This one is based on that terrible "Shots Everybody" song.)

***But first we need to acknowledge that more jobs and better wages are something we desperately need.

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

This is not intended to be a full entry. Howard Zinn, the progressive historian most famous for his A People's History of the United States, has been better eulogized elsewhere. With all he did and all he wrote he promoted logic, equality, and the value of taking a stand. His voice for reason will be missed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Apology, a Link Roundup, and the Museo of 2050.

We were confused as to why there weren't many responses to the salary survey, but it seems the links were incorrect and routing people to 404 Not Found pages. This has been fixed, and all links should now be functional. Sorry!

There have recently been a lot of articles on the effects of the recession. All of these articles show trends that will effect museum employment for the long term. It's not pretty.

- The Disposable Worker from Business Week. "Pay is falling, benefits are vanishing, and no one's job is secure. How companies are making the era of the temp more than temporary." This seems to be the case with many museum positions. Some choice quotes:
"You know American workers are in bad shape when a low-paying, no-benefits job is considered a sweet deal. Their situation isn't likely to improve soon; some economists predict it will be years, not months, before employees regain any semblance of bargaining power. That's because this recession's unusual ferocity has accelerated trends—including offshoring, automation, the decline of labor unions' influence, new management techniques, and regulatory changes—that already had been eroding workers' economic standing"


"The situation is especially difficult for young people, many of whom haven't been able to get a first foot on the career ladder. The percentage of people 16 to 24 who have jobs has plummeted by 13 percentage points since the beginning of 2000, while the share of workers 55 and over who have jobs has edged up over the period, despite the recession. Some young people are so desperate to get a start, they're working for free as semi-permanent interns. "Companies that used to use only one or two interns are now asking me for five or six at a time," says Lauren Berger, who runs a company that matches interns with entertainment, marketing, and media companies. Berger also reports a rise in the number of "adult interns," who work for free while trying to break into a new career."
- Recession Spurs Interest in Graduate, Law Schools from the New York Times.

- The Recession Generation from Newsweek. "Those entering the workforce now will likely make less and save more--not just in the short term but for the rest of their lives."

So what does all this mean for museos? Usually I try and keep from turning Link Roundups into Op-Ed pieces (although the links I select belie my biases) but I think this is a worthwhile discussion. Let's talk about the museum of 2050 (a favorite museo pastime), specifically the museos employed there. I posit:

- Master's degrees will be the new bachelor's degrees (a trend that is evident even now) and museos with advanced degrees will flood the market. It will be nearly impossible to find a job without one. We will see a proliferation of museum studies PhD programs as people continue to try and get a leg up on the competition.
- More and more positions will be part-time or temporary. Pay will remain stagnant, or will even decrease. Most of the suggestions for saving museums focus on having programs that turn a profit. While this is valid and is definitely necessary for saving museums (the entity), how much does this aid museos? There might theoretically be more money to spend on salaries, but will it be? More likely it will be spent on expanding the part-time workforce to offer more one-time or short-term programs.
- It will take longer and longer to qualify for these part-time, low-paid, temporary positions. That means more volunteering, more interning, and fewer years of making money. This will weed out a lot of potential museos who are unable to afford the long, unpaid slog.

I hate this future. I can't even express how much I hate this future. First of all, it looks alarmingly like the present. How much can things deteriorate? What happens when they do? Will people finally be mad enough to do something? This is your dystopian present, museos.

When you think think of the museum of 2050, what do you see in store for museos?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Museum Salaries: big earners make it hard for everyone else

As our salary survey moves into its 4th week live, we are very grateful to everyone who has participated, and yet honestly flummoxed as to why we only have ~65 responses so far.

Here’s a newsflash: the only salaries people outside the sector hear about are the top earners, thanks to the 990 forms and a bunch of journalists who like to post stories along the lines of “Look how much this museum director makes to play with old stuff and art all day!” *** And many people who hear about these top salaries get some strange idea in their heads that museums have endless funds and everyone makes a bundle. (Some interesting posts related to this idea are found on CultureGrrrl’s blog here, here, and here. More recently, and even more infuriatingly, here)

The only way to combat these misconceptions is to basically reveal the museum worker as underpaid, yet talented and educated. There is an element of needing public awareness and sympathy. Museos! We need to make the public aware that what we do is worth more. We need to make each other within the museum community aware that We Are Not Alone in our feelings of injustice about compensation, and that we are all experiencing the same problems.

This article (thanks to Pete of Newcurator for the heads up) discusses the idea of a lottery economy, one in which who “wins” is complete chance. This idea applies to museos because it often seems that the people who get positions and the amount of pay is all down to chance. The quote, “people don't believe that people that win in gambling deserve their fortune,” would then extend to us asking ourselves: do we, the underpaid or unable-to-find-a-job, think the people who got the job just “lucked” into it? Do we resent our fellow museos for making more? Do we resent top earners?

Or do we resent ourselves for not demanding better?

I promise, we at Museos Unite have a plan (albeit one that takes lots of help to enact, YOUR help) to try to revolutionize museum salaries. But first, we need the numbers to back us up. Share the survey!


*** We made a post here about how much Directors are making, but only to illustrate the gap between top earners and entry level/lower pay grade positions. We know that Directors work hard!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Link Roundup: 7 January 2010

It's been ages since we've done one of these, but I've been accumulating open windows in my browser and think the New Year is a pretty good time to clean house. I've divided them into categories in an attempt to make this link-dump a little more coherent.

Amazingly Cool
- Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics. I'm just in awe of this project. Definitely give it a look if you get a chance. I'm not sure if this is a one-time thing or if there will be future editions as well. (But what is it? Here's how it's described on their website: Art Work is a newspaper and accompanying website that consists of writings and images from artists, activists, writers, critics, and others on the topic of working within depressed economies and how that impacts artistic process, compensation and artistic property.)


- Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Are the rewards (monetary and otherwise) of graduate school worth the expense? Or are humanities grads just buying into a broken system?
- The Gervais Principle: The Office According to the Office. Very good, very incisive article despite the pop culture title. About the types of people you will meet on the way up the corporate ladder and on the way back down. Which type are you? WARNING: long.
- 2010 Job Market Outlook: Cloudy from Yahoo Hot Jobs. No chance of meatballs.
- College Grads Beware - You're Screwed from Wealth...Uncomplicated. People entering the job market today will earn less over their lifetimes and end up with less saved for retirement thanks to dreadful starting salaries.
- One Way to Help the Lost Generation from Lindsey Pollak. Summary: pay those interns.
- Six Ideas Obama Heard at the White House Jobs Summit from the Christian Science Monitor. An example of what happens when you open a link and then don't post it until a month later: it becomes extremely outdated. Still some of these ideas, particularly the incentives to hire, might also help museums.

Labor/Class (n.b. don't look at this section if you're watching your blood pressure)
- A Look at the Numbers: How the Rich Get Richer from Mother Jones.
- Poor Losers: How the Poor Get Dinged at Every Turn from Mother Jones.
- Do Businesses Hate Their Workers? from Naked Capitalism. Ties in with the health care debate in the US.

Hopefully we'll get a chance to delve into some of these topics in 2010.

What is fair compensation?

My dear Museos, here is the million dollar question:

What is fair compensation?
What would you like to see included in a compensation (financial and otherwise) package from the museums where Museos work?

Here are some categories:
-financial compensation
-maternity leave
-compensation for evening/weekend work (beyond usual 40 hour work week)
-unionization options

Comment on all of these and more. If you want to keep it anonymous, that's fine. And while you are at it, take the little quiz on the sidebar to the right. And then be sure to take the salary survey if you haven't done so already. Once we get the salary survey done, maybe we will do a benefits survey. Who knows.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Years Revolutions, Part II

Welcome to 2010, Museos.

In 2010 we resolve to get a better picture of museum wages across the United States and around the world. You can help us with this by taking (and passing along) our salary survey and helping us compile the data we need to help make museos heard.

In 2010 we resolve to continue being a voice for fair compensation, and to continue capturing the zeitgeist of museums. We resolve to spread the word both on this blog and in our personal lives. If people don't know that compensation and professional development for museum professionals--especially entry level museos--is an issue, nothing will be done to ameliorate poor conditions on these fronts. Why not resolve to help us raise awareness? Think of what we could accomplish if we all put our voices together.

In 2010 we resolve to turn this Popsicle stand into a more professional operation. That means more frequent entries, a larger web presence, and possibly a site redesign.

In 2010 we resolve to meet the needs of our readers. What would you like to see more of on Museos Unite?

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Revolutions...

Hi Museos! Happy New Year!

Help us start the revolution by taking the salary survey.

If you took it before Christmas, please take it again. We've added a few questions that will really help us get a clearer picture.

We are up to 40+ responses, but we need 100+ to have our data be really useful. Forward the survey to your fellow museos ( ! Encourage your favorite museum blog to write a post about it! Please Tweet about it! Post it on your own website!

I personally assure you that the numbers/data we are getting in so far will astound you. The sooner we have more responses, the sooner we can share the results.

Make your New Year's resolution now: Help the museo revolution!