Instead of investing in high-level staff members (and the salary that comes with them) museums are labeling posts as “learning experiences” and marketing them to young professionals for a much lower price tag, says Michelle Friedman, Head of Education and Academic Initiatives at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. [Photos: Ilana Novick]
An extract from our latest book, For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries.
ACROSS INSTITUTIONS THE MEMO IS CONSISTENT: you are lucky to have a job in your field, in the museum world, in the arts, in a non-profit organization. There were nearly 12.3 million jobs in U.S. nonprofit organizations in 2016, totaling 10.2% of U.S. private sector employment. In the museum field specifically, there were only approximately 174,000 jobs across the country. The sentiment is consistent: there are few jobs compared to other fields, so you should feel privileged to work at a museum. Yes, the pay is not as high as other fields, but you get to do what you love. You should feel blessed to be working at a museum even if the hours are long, the workload is heavy, and the pay is light – positions in the arts and/or museum world are few and far between, so count your lucky stars! And, if you choose to leave, there will be a line of people waiting to take your position.
Museums capitalize on this mentality and count on the passion of their employees: they love what they do, they are dedicated, and they will work hard, regardless of the salary or benefits. Often, when someone does choose to leave, their position is filled with young professionals looking to gain a foothold in the institution, while higher positions are frequently left unfilled to save money. Emerging professionals, now more than in previous generations, are looking for personal and career growth or job security. Why invest in a high-level staff member (and the salary that comes with it) when institutions can label it as a “learning experience” and market it to young professionals for a much lower price tag? In many of these situations, employees are promised perks and opportunities to offset heavy workloads, only to be overwhelmed to the point where there is no room for growth and burnout is inevitable. As part of a recent research study, both supervisory and non-supervisory employees were asked to rate their stress levels: both populations reported stress in a typical week approximately 50% of the time. When these same employees were asked how likely they were to leave their current position, only 30% said between somewhat likely and extremely likely.
But what happens to the public programs, and in turn the participants, when passion is simply no longer enough to keep the stewards of those programs in place?
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