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.