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?


  1. OK, that's depressing. Here's an alternative:

    Museos will realize that big, bloated institutions are unable to provide real community value and will start entrepeneurial, small museums. Some will be in libraries or coffeeshops or laundromats. The museos will work for low pay but love every minute of it.

    This is certainly what I intend to do. Except not in 2050. By then, my kid better be running the place :)

  2. I'm of two minds about small museums. On the one hand, I love love LOVE any and all talk of museums in unexpected places. When I see an empty space in a struggling shopping mall I just want to put a pop-up gallery there. I'd love to be able to look at an exhibit while waiting for my laundry to dry. On the other hand, I work in a small museum and I think the current funding situation (grants for programming but a lack of them for infrastructure, collections care, salaries etc) will ultimately doom them/us. While I think smaller institutions are better placed to accomplish community connections than big museums, I think big museums are more financially sustainable and therefore more likely to ride out the current wave of closures, cuts etc.

    Ugh I sound like I want to throw around the phrase "too big to fail" don't I? I really don't, although I do see larger museums dominating as much in the future as they do now. I'm aware that larger museums can and do fail (and do so with much more fanfare than truly small, local institutions.)

    The reason we were trying to establish what constitutes fair compensation a couple of entries ago is because there's working for low pay and then there's putting yourself in a truly appalling situation. You can only love every minute of your low-wage job so much if you're unable to afford health insurance, childcare, etc. It's one thing if low pay is balanced with other benefits and opportunities, and another if museos are supposed to pay for those benefits out of their low pay. Do I think museos are ever going to make millions? No. Do I think the AAM should step the hell up (like the MA has in the UK) and state what's an acceptable salary and benefits package and what isn't? Absolutely.