Written by Mike Murawski
In recent years, there has certainly been increased awareness and discussion about salaries within the museum profession. I can speak from my own place within the field of museum education when I say that this has become a very frequent (and more urgent) topic of conversation at conferences, leadership convenings, and professional meetings in recent months. Thanks to the efforts of museum activists involved with movements such as Museum Workers Speak, #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson, protests at individual museums, and several leaders in our field, we are seeing an increase in awareness around museum labor practices, hiring, and worker pay as well as the intersection of these issues with race, gender, and class.
Last week, Joan Baldwin wrote an insightful and widely-read piece entitled “Museums and the Salary Conundrum” via the Leadership Matters blog — a site that emerged in conjunction with the 2013 book of the same name written with Anne Ackerson and studying museum leadership in history and cultural heritage organizations. In her post, Baldwin so clearly and boldly frames the problem of museum salaries:
“we work in an underpaid, under-resourced field. And for too long, too many people have told us that it is such a privilege to participate, that we should suck it up, deal with the fact that we’re thirty and still need roommates to pay the rent, and revel in the fact that we have a museum position.”
Joan quickly followed her post with another this week entitled “The Salary Agenda,” in which she and Anne take a stab at what they think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like. I really appreciated this action-focused series of items, which can begin to help the conversation focus on real change — from professional organizations and institutions to graduate programs and individuals. Here is a quick repost of their Agenda, and I invite everyone to read their entire post and add comments to the already-active conversation on their blog.
From Leadership Matters:
What Professional Associations and Museum Service Organizations Can Do:
- Establish and promote national salary standards for museum positions requiring advanced degrees.
- Encourage museums to demonstrate the importance of human capital in their organizations.
- Make salary transparency part of the StEPS (AASLH) and accreditation process (AAM).
- Support organizations in understanding the need for endowment to support staff salaries. A building and a collection don’t guarantee a museum’s future. People do.
- Create a national working group for #Museumstaffmatters.
What Institutions Can Do:
- Encourage networking and individual staff development.
- Make every effort to provide salaries that exceed the Living Wage.
- Educate boards regarding the wastefulness of staff turnover.
- Make criteria for salary levels transparent.
- Examine the gaps among the director’s salary, the leadership team and the remaining staff.
- Offer equitable health and family leave benefits (and make them available on Day One of a new hire’s tenure).
What Individuals Can Do:
- Do your homework. Understand the community and region where you plan to work.
- Use the Living Wage index.
- Be prepared to negotiate. Be prepared to say no. A dream job isn’t a dream if your parents are still paying your car insurance and your mobile phone bills.
- Ask about the TOTAL package not just salary. If you are the trailing spouse and don’t need health insurance but do need time, make that part of your negotiations.
- Network. Know what’s going on in your field, locally, regionally, nationally.
What Graduate Programs Can Do:
- Be open about job placement statistics
- Teach students to negotiate salaries and benefits.
- Teach students to calculate a Living Wage plus loan payments and quality of life.
- Encourage networking, mentoring and participation in the field.
Just as Joan and Anne are not speaking from a position of having solved all these problems, neither am I. However, I wanted to share their recent writings and ideas as a way to ensure that this conversation remains strong within the field of museum education. As we enter the spring season of conferences (AAM, NAEA, etc.), let’s make sure to keep these issues at the forefront of many of our conversations about diversity, inclusion, and leadership and work toward making appropriate and necessary changes within our professional organizations and institutions.
Thank you to Joan (and Anne) for sparking another important exchange around these vital issues to our field, and thanks to all the museum thinkers and activists pushing this issue through Twitter chats each week and in-person meet-ups across the country.