Had an interesting discussion with a museum/historic site consortium group of which I’m a member at our meeting this afternoon. Most of the museums represented there are supported/run by the county, and are seeing their budgets and staffing being cut within an inch of their life, in often sneaky and not transparent manners. The two of us there from sites run by the Large Organization were in by far the best financial shape, but I’m coming to the realization that the Large Organization’s unwillingness to work with me to make the transition from me to the next person to be in charge of the Wee Historic Beastie +2 may be stemming from their desire to stretch out the period where these three sites do not have anyone in charge as long as possible to save money.
A lot of the issues we discussed were similar to ones that have been covered over at Museos Unite–especially the fear of “going public” with complaints or issues because of worry about alienating our constituents or appearing “ungrateful.” None of us had any solutions for the issues we discussed, but for me it was nice to see other museum professionals first-hand getting angry about the way in which we’re treated!
I often feel like there’s something wrong with me, among my museum friends–they’re all willing and able to quietly “pay their dues”, working the shit jobs that pay next to nothing even though we all have advanced degrees. I feel like the freak because I’m not happy toeing the line! Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of labor unionists (and unionized teachers on my mom’s side). I feel like because most of the museum professionals I know are from affluent backgrounds, they view such rabble-rousing as dangerous and beneath them. It’s not something we white-collar, educated workers should do.
I think a lot of the problem, both with under-paying of museum professionals and under-funding of museums themselves, is that they’re largely considered the purview of little old lady volunteers or wives who want to have a “fun job” while their husbands make the real money to support the family. This leaves little room for people like myself, who actually have to earn a living and support themselves, because there’s no family money, no husband to pay the bills. I think until the larger society finally realizes that museums are run by educated professionals who deserve to be compensated for their expertise, this will continue to be the problem. (Seriously, I can’t remember how many times in my year at the Wee Historic Beastie I had people think that M and I were volunteers or a family. No, we’re actually paid professionals, thanks!)
So, I guess all this is to say that I may be leaving the museum field, but I’m not going to stop thinking and talking about it. Aren’t you all thrilled? 😉