Dear Future Museum Educators: Three Things I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago

museum educator

This is the first of several posts on the museum job hunt. Our guest blogger this week is Allison Clark (and, no, that’s not Allison in the photo).

When I first entered the museum field, I was a bright-eyed undergraduate whose opportunities seemed limited only by time. My college campus was nestled next to Houston’s Museum District, enabling me to bounce from institution to institution, department to department, trying my hands at everything from curation to collections management to interpretation. Through both paid and unpaid internships, I caught the museum bug: I wanted to share my enthusiasm for visual art with anyone and everyone. My supervisors became my cheerleaders, and with their encouragement, I earned my graduate degree in art education. As I was frequently reminded, this expensive piece of paper would add a coveted edge to my career. And, for a while, it did. I racked up fellowships and scholarships in graduate school, teaching visitors of all ages and presenting at conferences during the few moments when I wasn’t trying to make ends meet financially.

As graduation neared, I began haphazardly applying to entry-level positions across the United States. By some miracle, I interviewed for thirty minutes with a big-name museum in Los Angeles for one of their graduate internships. A few weeks later, I received the phone call I had dreamt about: I was invited to join their team, albeit without benefits and less-than motivating pay. Yet, all I could think was, “THIS IS IT – I MADE IT!!!”

A year later with the graduate internship under my belt, I was far less convinced. What no one explicitly told me as I worked my way up the museum education ladder was that full-time gigs were few and far between. Even in Los Angeles. Even for people with the experience and education to back it up. I applied to over 50 full-time museum education jobs across the country in the span of five months, and I was called back for four. And those initial call backs? They led to multiple rounds of interviews, teaching samples, and strategic planning presentations. At the end, only one job offer provided a living full-time wage with benefits – two things most people need to live on their own.

Now, I am aware that I am one of the lucky ones. I can go to urgent care without panicking about how I will be able to pay, and most days I get to do what I love. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case for many museum educators, who are all too often undervalued and still searching for their “break” into full-time employment with opportunities for career advancement.

So, let me provide the advice I wish I could have told myself ten years ago:

  1. Gain skills outside of your intended field.

Learn how to budget. Like, really budget. What would you do with $2,000? How about $250,000? Know the numbers, and know how to speak business. If this isn’t your comfort zone, join the club. Take free online courses (edX is my go-to), and expand your skillset to include some productive surprises.

      2.  Work hard, be nice.

One of the best things to do when you’re starting out (or moving up) is to do excellent work and share it with your peers, supervisors, friends, and anyone who can provide constructive feedback. The museum world is a teeny-tiny place, so be nice to everyone you meet.

       3.  Be prepared to struggle.

The museum education field is not for the faint of heart, or people who want a 9-5 job. One of my mentors advised me that the days are long, but the years are short. The hours will hurt, you will get tired of the near-constant balancing act, and you might even question if you’re making an impact. Hang in there. Find your network (local, regional, or national). Share your vulnerabilities with people you trust. Delegate if you can. Most of all, document your successes and create a portfolio that illustrates why your efforts matter.

Since joining the Bruin family in May 2017 as the Education Manager at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, Allison Clark has welcomed hundreds of students to the Fowler, produced a three-day Teacher Institute for K-12 educators, and designed over 20 family programs for both kids and kids-at-heart. Currently, her work highlights the intersections of visitor-driven interpretation, inclusive storytelling, and professional development for the K-12 community and intergenerational audiences. Allison also serves on the Board of Directors for the Museum Educators of Southern California (MESC) in addition to committee appointments with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Allison received her M.A in Art Education from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in Art History and Anthropology from Rice University.

 

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Leadership and Workplace Bullying

bitch-in-the-workplaceFirst, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge Nexus LAB’s work on leadership released this week. Leadership Matters’ own Anne Ackerson was part of the team that worked for four years, talking, writing, designing better paths to leadership for museums, libraries, and archives. If you haven’t taken a look at the Layers of Leadership, print it, stick it up over your desk, and see where you and your colleagues are.

Next, we’d like to talk about an issue common to many workplaces not just museums. In the past month we’ve observed two organizations where staff were essentially hounded out of their positions. Neither organization is unsophisticated nor underfunded. Each has layers of leadership, and yet at the critical assistant or associate layer there was and is ongoing failure to lead. The “why” is not something we will ever know. The “how” speaks to executive directors who may believe their leadership teams function well, and not realize what’s going on. That in itself is a bit scary. As an ED, shouldn’t you be aware of everything that’s going on particularly when it comes to HR? And how well do you know your leadership team if, at the end of the day, they’ve forced someone to leave? What message does that send to remaining staff?

In a nutshell, both individuals, at very different organizations, were made aware that their performance wasn’t up to snuff. No, this wasn’t done in an annual performance review, nor was it done in a series of calm meetings with advance notice provided, where expectations were laid out and timelines set. Instead, associate/assistant directors criticized, berated, and belittled. The end game seemed to be to make the employee leave of his or her own accord. Whoa, you say, does that really happen? Yup. Probably more than anyone acknowledges.

There is no law against being Cruella Deville in the workplace. In fact, it’s one of the few places left where as long as you don’t cross the Title VII lines, you are allowed to be a bully. Should you be? Heck no. But can you be? Sure. These situations rarely happen once. They are often a series of incidents, that accrete over time; where, for example, responsibilities are subtly increased while authority is diminished. Or where an employee is constantly the victim of understated remarks about performance, ability, and organizational loyalty, often in public. Just to underscore how bullying this behavior is, it’s sometimes coupled with comments about the employee’s emotional state—“You seem angry;” or “You seem upset;” What can we do to work on that?” or “You know you need to keep your emotions in check at the workplace.” The latter is one frequently aimed at women. Public displays of emotion, particularly in the workplace, are hugely gendered. Studies show that men demonstrating anger makes them seem competent and may lead to promotion. Not so for women where anger–especially if it is coupled with tears– is perceived as the exact opposite–a lack of capability.

So, if you’re an executive director of an organization large enough to have a leadership team supervising staff, what should you do?

  • Make sure you are apprised of all ongoing HR issues. Ask questions. Ask for transparency. If things are going as they should be, you’ll receive all the evidence you need. If they’re not, push back. Don’t assume.
  • If you don’t have an HR office, seek advice from a professional particularly when an employee appears to be struggling. Does he or she have a job description? Has she had an annual performance review? Have her abilities changed overnight or has her supervisor changed? Who’s new on the team, and how was that transition handled?
  • Make sure you have an equitable HR policy coupled with job descriptions for all staff.
  • Know workplace bullying when you see it. Don’t tolerate it.

Joan Baldwin


Museums and Investing in Social Responsibility

Not Neutral

Thursday I spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Although I wore my “Museums are not neutral” T-shirt,  I’m not sure anyone noticed. The topic of museum neutrality, however, is one that interests us here at Leadership Matters because it intersects directly with how museum directors lead, and the role museums and history organizations play in their communities.

Museum neutrality has been in the wind for a while now. For some it means, museums should openly take a stand on issues of community or national interest. For others, it means museums should use their scholarship to refute false narratives in an age of post-truthiness.

A notable example of a museum taking a stand took place last winter when the Trump administration banned travel and rescinded visas from seven majority-Muslim nations. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), usually a-political, responded by removing work by Picasso and Matisse and hanging paintings by living artists from the banned countries. And just in case MoMA’s selfie-taking audience missed what was going on, it labeled each newly-displayed painting with the following lines, making it crystal clear where it stood on the travel/immigration debate.

This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.

Given MoMA’s size, wealth, and presence in the art world, it’s likely that Glenn Lowry and his senior staff took more than a few minutes to decide how to respond to the travel ban. And given what we heard from Shankar Vedantam, National Public Radio’s Social Science correspondent this week, that’s a good idea.  Vedantam reported on the risks CEO’s take when they invest in social responsibility. And based on the researchers he interviewed, doing good with corporate profits can be bad.  Here’s why: In the corporate world everything points towards making money. No surprise there. And community aid, activism, diversity initiatives, and support for education don’t get the product out the door. Nonetheless, they do generate a lot of good will, and that should be good for the corporation, yes? Not necessarily.

Vedantam interviewed Timothy Hubbard who teaches at Notre Dame University. He and two colleagues studied what these types of community investments mean for CEOs’ careers. In a nutshell, here’s what Hubbard said, “We see this double-edged sword where if the firm is doing well, investments in corporate social responsibility can buffer a CEO from dismissal. But on the other hand, if there’s negative financial performance, it can really set the CEO up for a situation where they could likely be terminated.”

We aren’t aware of any work on whether acts of social responsibility by museum leadership shortens an executive director’s tenure, but since many museum board members come from the corporate world, it’s worth bearing in mind. Nonetheless, there is a difference between taking a stand, and taking a stand relating to facts, collections and the truth. Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellman, a CEO of the Gates Foundation, was also interviewed on NPR this week.  Desmond-Hellman makes the point that,”Scientists can’t be ivory tower,” adding that “What we’re really hearing from people is I no longer trust authority.”

She suggests that scientists (and we would argue curators, conservators, museum educators, and directors) need to be part of the public dialog. She asks her fellow researchers when was the last time they attended a PTA meeting, Cub Scouts, your church, synagogue or mosque, adding “If we’re not part of that dialog, soon science won’t matter.” (And maybe history or culture?) She points out that in an age when the public relies more on emotion and personal belief than scientific evidence, then there’s a problem.

We believe first and foremost that museums have to understand their communities, and their entire community, not just the largely white, heterosexual, wealthy community who wanders their galleries and attends openings. But how do museums decide when and how to take a stand? Is what’s relevant to the director important to the community? And how about the board? As a director, if you take a stand will it matter to the people you’re trying to support? Does not being neutral mean being a good citizen, and how should an organization be a good citizen? How do museums engage their communities while being transparent?

Tell us what you think.

Joan Baldwin

 


It’s the board, stupid.

board meeting

As the Berkshire Museum‘s (Pittsfield, MA) drama roils on, the museum world is thinking a lot about deaccessioning. And it should. The New England Museum Association even added a last-minute session to its annual meeting roster to talk about it. But here at Leadership Matters, the Berkshire Museum’s problems have made us think a lot about boards, board behavior, and organizational culture.

Remember Bill Clinton’s famous tag line, “It’s the economy, stupid”? How about a variation on that for the museum world: “It’s the board, stupid.”? How many of a museum or heritage organization’s problems, both financial and cultural, trace back to the board? Yes, yes, mission and vision are really important, but assuming they’re beautifully crafted in the beginning, they don’t have power on their own. They’re just words. The folks empowered to carry them forward into the world, to interpret them, to make the magic happen, are first and foremost, board members, and in a recent Stanford survey of non-profit boards 27-percent of board members lack a the depth of knowledge, and the engagement required to help their organizations succeed. Pretty shocking.

At larger museums, boards are often referred to with the pronoun “they,” as in “I wonder if they will give us a raise this year?” They are rarely seen except when they meet on site several times a year. Then, the most jaded staff make jokes about which board members will be able to find the meeting room. They have all the cookies, and yet it’s so easy for them to lose their way, literally and figuratively.

And who can tell them anything? They are the board. They hire the museum leadership that we write about each week on these very pages. This is not to say all museum and heritage organization board members are jerks. They are not. Many are exemplary human beings, but just as being promoted from assistant director to director doesn’t make you any smarter, neither does board membership. And yet so much depends on board members’ good work. So if you’re a board member, if you work with museum boards or if you’re a museum director who wields some influence, here are some things we hope you’ve tackled:

  • Does your board understand its legal responsibilities? Is that information available in their board handbook? Does your organization have regular check-ins about those responsibilities vis a vis the organization?
  • What kind of orientation does your board offer new members? If information is passed orally from member to member, you may want to re-think that. There is plenty of support for how to design a board orientation plan. We are particular fans of Joan Garry because of her clear, simple approach. You could do way worse than to take her advice.
  • Does your board have a strong nominating or governance committee? Do they understand your organization deeply and completely enough to know that being wealthy and well-connected might not be all your organization needs?
  • Is your board among the 52–percent of non-profit boards nationally whose work is done by a board within a board? If the answer is yes, do you understand when and how that happened, and whether it is still working?
  • Does your board have a respectful, collegial relationship with your executive director? Does it have succession plans for board and staff leadership?
  • Does your board understand that its primary responsibility is fiduciary? According to the Stanford survey only 42-percent of all non-profits have a “give or get” policy where members are required to donate or raise a particular amount each year. That might not work for your board, but even a modest required donation levels the playing field, and reminds all board members why they are there.

There is no nirvana of boards where everyone internalizes the museum’s mission, gets along with the executive director, contributes time and money and gets others to do the same, but if board members universally understood their trusteeship as work, based in a museum’s mission, perhaps there would be less disruption, less mediocrity, and more organizational success, and raising operations endowments by selling the collection would never ever be considered.

Joan Baldwin


The Job Search: Hunter or Hunted?

Fishing for a Job

Full disclosure: Anne and I are both teaching in the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies Program this fall. It is a great experience and we’re honored to participate, but here’s what’s worrying. Since this is online education, some of our students already have museum jobs. Maybe not their dream job, but they are employed. It’s the others I worry for. When I read a post like the one on Emerging Museum Professionals this week where the rightfully depressed writer was one of hundreds chosen for a final in-person interview, and then didn’t get the job, or when I hear about huge organizations who conduct multiple interviews via Skype for the lowliest form of employment, it makes me frantic. And if I had more faith in board governance, I wouldn’t question how we got here.

All things being relative, my generation of museum workers got the same crap pay as today, but, on the history/American culture side of things, it felt like there were plenty of job opportunities. Applications were sent via the U.S. Post Office so there was a leisurely pace to the whole business. The field was young, and there were only a handful of actual museum graduate schools, and another handful dipping their toes in the field via public history or American studies. Many of us had parents who believed this was something we’d actually grow out of. They spent years waiting for us to settle down to take the law boards.

So that was then. Who knows if it really was better or if it just appears that way in retrospect. Now it’s 2017. AAM and the New England Museum Association, for example, have online Career Centers that are full of resume samples and advice. Are they helpful? And I know AAM, in cooperation with the regional museum service agencies, conducts annual salary surveys, but who collects data about the number of job openings versus the number of applicants? What does the application process look like for the average museum job seeker? How long does it take? What factors seem to make it easier or harder? And what other kinds of support exists for folks with newly-minted graduate degrees vis a vis the job process?

I Googled the phrase “Finding a Museum Job” and got an assortment of blog posts–some of them hilarious in a dark way–and job-seeking sites about getting museum employment. Counterintuitively, the two biggest pieces of advice were 1) be flexible–which translates to don’t have any personal relationships that require a specific geographic location and 2) Network–which seems to mean emailing 75 resumes might not be the answer.

If there is an answer, we’d like to hear your thoughts. And if one of you has enough coherent thoughts about the museum job search, and might like to guest post, please let us know by emailing us at leadershipmatters1213@gmail.com.

In the meantime, good luck to ALL job searchers.

Joan Baldwin

 


The Museum Workplace & the Weinstein Effect

Women's_March_Washington,_DC_USA_38_(cropped)

By Rosa Pineda – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55223488

Museums aren’t known for workplace self-examination, so it’s possible the title of this piece makes you cringe. But in the wake of all the press surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s debacle, maybe it’s time to focus on sexual harassment in museums and heritage organizations.

To begin, while museums are places of imagination, creativity, and discovery, they are first and foremost workplaces. In short, they possess all the wonderful characteristics we want them to, until they don’t. And when it comes to being workplaces, they are not dissimilar from many other job sectors where one in three women is sexually harassed. Just to be clear, this is what Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines as workplace harassment: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

In researching our book, Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, we heard numerous stories of harassment. And when we spoke, along with interviewees from the book at the AAM and AASLH annual meetings, more than half the room raised their hands when we asked if they had experienced workplace sexual harassment. So much for the polite, deferential museum world. Not to mention that two of our four panelists were included in that number, one photographed inappropriately and repeatedly until she blew the whistle on her harasser, and another told her career advancement was dependent on her having sex with her boss.

These were not the only stories. There were many more. What was particularly disturbing is that a lot of women who shared their experiences were told to keep quiet. There are variations on this theme of if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you, you-won’t-talk. They range from: “You’ll damage your career,” to “We’re taking care of it,” to our particular favorite “Well, stuff like that happens.” Really?

All of these excuses play on the reasons women are afraid to reveal sexual harassment in the first place. Many fear retaliation. What makes these situations doubly sad is that women not only fear retaliation from the abuser, particularly if that person is in a position of power–a board member or a director–but many times they are also afraid their colleagues won’t support them. In fact, according to a 2016 Harvard Business Review survey 71-percent of women who experienced workplace harassment didn’t report it. And significantly, their colleagues who witnessed the behavior also failed to report it, something that’s known as the bystander effect, meaning individuals in a group are less likely to come to someone’s aid than if they were alone.

Clearly, the museum field needs to acknowledge that harassment happens and support women who are its victims. So what can the museum field do to change this behavior and compel museum boards and directors to protect women?

  • All museums and heritage organizations need to understand that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to non-profits as well as for-profits and it applies whether your organization employs one person or 2,000. A civil rights violation is a civil rights violation no matter where it’s committed. 
  • All museums and heritage organizations need to have personnel policies that explain what employees should do in the event of sexual harassment. Check your policy today. These policies should spell out anti-retaliation provisions under state law, and more importantly, how victims file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the equivalent state agency.
  • All museums and heritage organizations should understand that while the majority of sexual harassment claims are brought by women against men, Title VII protects everyone. 
  • All museums and heritage organizations should take sexual harassment claims seriously. Personnel policies should define sexual harassment, state that it will not be tolerated, and that wrongdoers will be disciplined or fired.
  • All museums and heritage organizations should offer sexual harassment training for employees annually. If your organization is too small, join forces with another museum or non-profit to pay for the trainer. And know that if you live in Connecticut, Maine or California and employ more than 50 people, there are state laws regarding sexual harassment training.

These are not difficult or expensive fixes. Be proactive. Protect your employees and your organization.

Joan Baldwin

 

 

 


The Museum Workplace & Standing Up for What’s Right

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 4.57.12 PM

 

There’s been a lot of attention paid to courageous museums and their leaders lately. Witness Puerto Rico where the Art Museum decided to open a week after the hurricane. Their idea? That despite the devastation around them, the museum was a place of safety, renewal, and happiness. Or how about Eastern State Penitentiary’s exhibit Prison’s Today, which knew it was tackling a volatile subject, and rather than ignore the elephant in the room, decided it would take a point of view, advocating from the opening panel that “Mass Incarceration Isn’t Working.” Or, curators like Rainy Tisdale after the Boston Marathon Bombing or Aaron Bryant at the African American History Museum who refuse to wait for history to “get old,” but document it as it happens? Or most recently the Queens Museum’s Director Laura Raicovich’s stance on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

While these individuals and organizations deserve our deepest respect and thanks, we need to talk about another aspect of courage. We need to talk about courage in the museum workplace as opposed to the museum itself. We need to talk about courage “backstage” as opposed to “on-stage.” Because decisions like the ones listed above affect an organization’s brand, donor base, and gate, they are rarely made alone. Instead there is a calculus involved, measuring mission and vision versus damaging PR, institutional values versus organizational gain. That doesn’t diminish the courage of these decisions, but they aren’t the same as those made in the museum workplace. There, it’s all about individuals. And it’s also about fearlessness.

This week we read a piece published on Incluseum called “LETTER TO YOUNG MUSEUM PROFESSIONALS OF COLOR OR WHAT TRANSPIRES ON A LONG-HAUL CAREER WHEN CONFRONTED WITH RACISM IN THE MUSEUM,”  by longtime museum consultant, Radiah Harper. If you haven’t read it, you should. Appearing less than a week after Alliance Lab’s piece on attrition from the field, Harper’s letter opens with the lines:

You know when someone or something has crossed the threshold of your sanity in the workplace. At that moment, you have to make decisions, even when in a senior position. Has there been an irrevocable offense? Is it racism or oppression and intolerable? We ask ourselves, can I afford to quit? 

I believe that most of us think that museum work is about doing good. We teach, we preserve, we research, we enlighten, we spark imagination, we provide beautiful spaces where families and friends gather. I suspect, when asked about our work, we think more about that public good then we do about our workplaces. And yet ours is a field where every day someone experiences racism or bias, gender stereotyping or sexual harassment.

Is it possible we spend way too much Facebook time decrying Charlottesville and whether or not monuments to the Confederacy should stay or go, and not enough thinking about what it’s like to be non-white in a museum workplace? Do most museum employees even know that one in three American women is sexually harassed at work? Do they understand that museums and heritage organizations aren’t exempt from sexual harassment? And what about employees who deal with multiple layers of bias and prejudice –women of color, lesbian or queer women, transgender women.

This is where we need personal courage. We need courage to stand beside and stand up for our colleagues; to interject when someone says something racist, unkind and biased. And if, for whatever reason,we are among the museum workers who are privileged, we need to use that privilege to make changes in workplace behavior. Maybe our small acts of conscience will change the museum field for the better.

Stop talking. Just act.

Joan Baldwin