OUR COLUMNIST SCULPTURESTEPH REFLECTS ON THE CHALLENGES THAT MUSEUM ARE FACING WITH A MANAGEMENT THAT IS SPENDING ENERGY AND MONEY IN THE WRONG PLACES:
‘It is ridiculous to use the argument that working in museums is for the ‘greater good’ only, especially when the management and directorate’s pay is of a parallel universe.
Having worked in museums I find that the less you actually do (and I mean ‘do’- not talking about what should be done) the higher your pay, and also the more likely you are to climb the career ladder.
In the UK many of these institutions now use the spending cuts as a handy excuse to justify laying off essential staff (ie. the ones who physically deliver all the management’s unrealistic programs thought up in ‘meetings’- again total absence of physical realities) which has a direct consequence to ‘the lucky ones’ (still in employment), the front of house staff, education, curatorial, collection care, technical, communication and admin staff in regards to stress and ill health.
The concept of volunteering and internships is a good one, but it is currently being abused. Most positions that become vacant are either made temporary and/ or scrapped completely and often volunteers and interns are in-officially expected to cover the resulting short comings. This not only puts these people into impossible situations- it has also caused a divide between volunteers, interns against permanent staff.
Volunteering and internships are only working and do what they are supposed to do, if the individuals are adequately supported, and this requires many resources, such as time, skills, expertise and providing required equipment, so the novice (the intern) can learn, be challenged and contribute, without having a mountain of responsibility resting on his/ her shoulders.
Again the reality of your average volunteer or intern is that they are already highly qualified (probably even more so than most of the individuals making up the management) and really should be earning their first salaries as a museum professional.
It doesn’t help that many of the ‘professional bodies’ do appear to endorse this with their absence of challenging individual institutions to seriously assess the quality and basic necessities of running and providing successful museum services.
This is the result of too many non museum, arts, culture, heritage professionals in management or directorate (a very old fashioned term nowadays). They have been all ‘kicked out’ under the PR slogan of getting rid of ‘elitism’.
Instead any money driven opportunist who can talk the talk has replaced these individuals, the focus being now on how to market the museum service rather than furthering preservation, education and intellectual thinking, and these PR people will make sure that no one gets into the inner circle who might expose their incompetency, superficiality and ignorance to the ethos and substance of cultural heritage and museums.
There is all this talk about what museums have to do, from ‘social inclusions’, to ‘community engagement’. Lots of money is spend on external consultants who carry out surveys that in the end all state the obvious but wrapped up in flowery language.
Now these surveys do not do anything, really. They don’t improve anything. They might satisfy another statistic- but they do not get any work done. Apart from that it is frustrating and plainly rude to get an outsider in, instead of just listening to the staff who will all have very basic but specific practical suggestions to make as to what would improve their ‘performance’ and work environment and subsequently the overall quality of a museum service, which wouldn’t need any extra PR as it would speak for itself.
And what about the codes of ethics and practices in museums, heritage and conservation/ preservation? I haven’t heard any discussions by any of the ‘big movers’ and ‘shakers’ of this sector, seriously discussing these, or any of the bodies, supposed to safe guard these intervening?
At the same time the solution to all this is obvious: get rid of top heavy management, use their salaries to employ more qualified (technical, curatorial, and educational) staff and fund meaningful training programs such as internships where individuals have at least their travel and basic living costs covered!
Not only would this be a fair and sensible investment- rather than an expenditure- but it would also make many museums operations and services much more effective and lead to higher quality…and making an internship meaningful again.’