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In the seminal participant-observer study The Wages of History, author Amy M. Tyson has cited the previous research identifying our sector as a “poverty-ridden field” & argues that we continue to work in an unacceptable low-wage ghetto (Tyson 2013: 4, 6, 15, 91-92, 172, passim).

The recent “Advocating for Equity: How to Talk About Salaries in Your Museum,” session at the 2019 American Association for State & Local History annual conference examined race, gender, salary negotiation, and emerging careers. On the Leadership Matters blog, one of the panelists at that event, Joan Baldwin (2019), reports the hot topics emerging from discussions became “inadequate pay and what to do about it.” Baldwin continues: “And as we’ve said many times here, poor pay and lousy benefits create a workforce that is stressed rather than focussed, . . .”

Usefully, Baldwin (2019) goes on to present 7 key considerations for beginning to address the poor pay regime that plagues our field. I recommend that followers consult the strategies outlined in Baldwin’s piece.

Serendipitously, on the same day as the above post by Baldwin (2019) was broadcast, a pre-publication announcement was made for a new analysis of under-compensation in the museum industry: For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries (Salerno, Gold, & Durocher forthcoming). See a link to the announcement in the References Cited below. This book is described by the Steering Committee of Fair Museum Jobs, UK as:

A bold collection of essays that address the topics of museum recruitment, salaries and working conditions, For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries comes at a time when these subjects are becoming less taboo and moving to the forefront of discussions about the sustainability of our sector. We hope that the insights contained within this volume will contribute to this important transformation, open conversations, and drive the museum industry towards a greater sense of equitability.

Among the list of 24 chapter titles in For Love or Money, a 532-page source of evidence-based analysis, followers will find many chapters directly related to the focus of this blog including:

  • Setting Salaries: A Perspective on Practice
  • Tough Love: Museum Salaries and the Working Class
  • Far Too Female: Museums on the Edge of a Pink Collar Profession
  • What’s Going on in This Picture? Museum Education as Undervalued Labor
  • Gender, Equity, and Museum Technology Salaries
  • Creating a More Equitable Experience for Museum Interns
  • Why Museums Must Stop Using Volunteer Docents and Start Paying their Educators
  • Re-engineering The Way Museums Work
  • Professional Associations and Labor Policies
  • Making Salaries a Priority for Museum Boards
  • Financial Resources for Pay Equity, Visitor Experience, and Public Value.

The pre-publication announcement linked below offers a 30% discount & free shipping. Followers of this blog also can contact your blogger Paul C. Thistle using the Contact form located in the top ribbon above & I can provide an additional limited-time 10% discount code that is “stackable” to create a pre-publication early bird mark-down totalling 40% off.

In submitting my own contribution to For Love or Money titled “Decent Working Conditions are Essential for Decent Compensation,” I had included an Abstract. Since such chapter summaries have not been printed in the book, I present a draft of my précis below.

This chapter contends that, while considering museums as a low wage sector, it is essential to examine the structure and management of work in the museum field that undeniably make under-compensation more reprehensible—and, in hourly-rated terms, illegal in many jurisdictions. Critical museology analysis is required. Anecdotal, informal, and both small- and large-scale survey results on the Quality of Working Lives (QWL) in museums will be brought to bear. The central argument of this chapter is that, irrespective of how high museum salaries and hourly wages can be raised, museum work ultimately will remain unsustainable for its practitioners unless and until unheeding work intensification and unresourced expectations to overwork are radically curtailed. I advocate that museum practitioners and like-minded stakeholders must change the way we work because the current QWL in our field is patently untenable [emphasis added here].

As I have argued previously on this blog, museums as institutions per se. can do little or nothing without their workers. If “museums can change the world” as bragged by the American Alliance of Museums, it will be museum practitioners who will have to arrange the change—perhaps in their own QWL & then promote our solutions in the service of the rest of society.

I say this because among the competencies for the Canadian museums community promulgated by the CMA are skills that analyse, create alternatives, act to minimise problems, and value original approaches to problem-solving (Canadian Museums Human Resource Planning Committee 1997: 15). Applying these skills to low museum pay & poor working conditions, the instigation of “progressive change” by means of “courageous energy” on the part of museum workers can make effective use of  our agency & finally “challenge the immorality of inaction” by means of the kind of activism urged on us by Janes & Sandell (2019: xxvii, 2, 18, passim).

As followers of this blog will realise, I firmly believe that museum workers are being exploited as “willing slaves” to our jobs because we love what we do. The concluding statement in my chapter makes the following point.

With regard to addressing exploitative employment, Tyson’s trail-blazing study The Wages of History quotes one living history interpreter activist that—by extension—I believe applies to the entire museum workforce: “Above all, fight it now so it doesn’t plague you the rest of your working life” (Tyson 2013: 71).

References Cited:

Baldwin, Joan. 2019. “Making the Moral Argument for Museum Pay.” Leadership Matters blog posted September 9 at https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/making-the-moral-argument-for-museum-pay/?wref=tp (accessed 12 September 2019).

Canadian Museums Human Resource Planning Committee. 1997. The Workforce of the Future: Competencies for the Canadian Museum Community. Ottawa: Canadian Museums Association.

Janes, Robert R. & Sandell, Richard eds. 2019. Museum Activism. London & New York: Routledge.

Salerno, Dawn E., Gold, Mark S., & Durocher, Kristina L. eds. [forthcoming]. For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries. Edinburgh, UK & Cambridge, MA: MusesumsEtc [pre-publication announcement is located at https://museumsetc.com/products/for-love-of-money-confronting-the-state-of-museum-salaries ] (accessed 12 September 2019).

Tyson, Amy M. 2013. The Wages of History: Emotional Labor on Public History’s Front Lines. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.