Action? on Museum Workers Leaving the Field

Museum workers need to organise to begin the process of solving chronic poor pay & overwork issues in museum workplaces.

My 14 November 2017 post on this blog was about the troubling number of workers who have been pushed out of the Museum field due to unsustainably low rates of pay & shamefully exploitative pressures to overwork (Thistle 2017). I identified & elaborated on various ways to address the problems. The post ended with a challenge to put these serious issues before regional, national, & international professional museum organisations’ Annual General Meetings.

I also posted the same type of comment about the need for activism on other blog articles that had generated unprecedented high levels of response on Erdman et al. (2017) & Milldrum (2017),

Four months later, I have neither heard nor read anything about actions planned to address these issues.

In this light, I suggest that museum workers who remain concerned & who plan to attend upcoming national and/or regional museum association annual general meetings consider introducing resolutions requesting action like the following.

Anyone willing to put a resolution calling on museum organisations to carry out research to confirm or disprove the findings of Ocello et al. (2017) is welcome to massage the wording of the following draft resolution to suit the particular museum organisation.

Understand; these problems will never be solved if museum workers say or do nothing about them. Action is absolutely necessary!

We don’t necessarily need a huge ground-swelling among “time poor” museum workers. As I have stated several times previously, even though we cannot prove for certain that Margaret Mead ever stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has[,]” the quality of this wisdom remains beyond dispute (Thistle 2017).

Remember the motto of the AAM: “Museums can change the world!” Consider too, however, that bricks & mortar institutions can do nothing but sit inert on their foundations. Only museum workers at all levels can accomplish necessary change!

DRAFT Resolution for Professional Museum Organisation Annual General Meetings:

WHEREAS: museum institutions have an ethical duty to “protect” employees [and volunteers too] on the same level of importance as collections (International Council of Museums 2004: 1; American Association of Museums 2000: 2),

WHEREAS: retention of emerging and mid-career museum professionals in this field anecdotally is problematic due to unsustainably low pay levels compounded by unreasonable expectations to overwork (Milldrum 2017; Greenberg & Pelaez 2015),

AND WHEREAS: an informal survey of 1,067 museum workers has found evidence that, of those respondents who no longer work in the field, 65% reported low pay and 33% reported poor work/life balance among multiple reasons for leaving their museum jobs (Ocello et al. 2017: 6; Erdman et al. 2017),


This annual general meeting of [INSERT NAME OF ORGANISATION HERE] direct the Board to investigate, partner with like regional, national, and international professional museum organisations to plan and carry out formal research on museum workers at all levels and, based on the results of such research, then plan and take best effort actions to address any substantive pay (e.g. Nonprofit Quarterly 2014) and quality of working life issues identified by the research to ensure that the problems identified are addressed effectively at the earliest possible dates.

References Cited:

American Association of Museums. 2000. Code of Ethics for Museums. Washington: American Association of Museums.

Erdman, Sarah et al. 2017. “Leaving the Museum Field.” Alliance Labs blog [American Alliance of Museums] posted 22 September (accessed 6 October 2020).

International Council of Museums. 2004. ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. Paris: International Council of Museums.

Greenberg, Alyssa & Pelaez, Nina. 2015. “Unsafe Ideas: Building Museum Worker Solidarity for Social Justice.” Center for the Future of Museums Blog posted 2 June at

Milldrum, Claire. 2017. “Why I Left The Museum Field: A Guest Post By Claire Milldrum.” ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog posted 11 September .

Nonprofit Quarterly. 2014. [SADLY. NO LONGER ACCESSIBLE FOR FREE: Pay deficits in the case of women in museum work for example are well-documented. Nonprofit Quarterly March 2014 reporting on a National Center for Arts Research finding that women leading art museums “earn 79 [to 71 for small museums] cents on the dollar paid to male peers,” The GuideStar 2013 Nonprofit Compensation Report identified similar differential between pay for men compared to women across all categories.  2012 American Association of Museums study reported women make 78% of males’ pay.]

Ocello, Claudia et al. 2017. “Why are Great Museum Workers Leaving the Field? Survey by Claudia Ocello, Dawn Salerno, Sarah Erdman, & Marieke Van Damme.” .

Thistle, Paul C. 2017. “Museum Workers Leaving the Field: Survey Results & Solutions.” Solving Task Saturation for Museum Workers blog post on 14 November (accessed 18 January 2018).

Author: fullyloadedcamel

Paul C. Thistle has more than twenty-six years of mission and management work in museums & archives. He has an interdisciplinary MA in history and anthropology, a BEd in cross-cultural and museum education, a BA in anthropology and history, and a Museology Certificate. Paul is a national, provincial, and academic award-winning author. He has taught Museum Studies at Beloit College and certificate courses for museum associations in Canada. He also writes the Critical Museology Miscellanea blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: