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 Newcurator.com)

The preface of this article is available over at newcurator.com. [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 newcurator.com.You 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!