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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Pay and the museum sector

This week, the Museums Association's Salary Guidelines report found that museum works are paid on average 7% less than their equivalents in other fields. While this was no surprise to anyone working in the industry, it does beg the question - now what? We all know museums do not pay well, and certainly not equivalent to the multiple skills and years of experience it demands of its staff, particularly in entry level jobs. But is there any way to change that?

The new curatorship campaign at the National Trust
In April 2017, the National Trust announced that it would be doubling their curatorial staff in two years (at all levels) and advertising posts in the region of £33,000 pa. It was a bold and much talked about strategy to move the benchmark for wages in curatorial work. It was thus far the most proactive change in the heritage sector in a long time and so far (as far as we know) no other major cultural organisations have followed suit. What would it take, and importantly who would it take, to make a more permanent shift in the industry. The Tate? The NPG? The Science Museum?

We think there's three issues here that would need to be addressed if any changes could be made. The first is a lack of government support for the work of museums and art galleries.

1) Years and years of to the bone cuts have forced museums to rely on their staff for more while making due on less. I'm sure there any many people at lots of organisations who would love to pay their staff more, but simply can't. It's very hard to justify benchmarking jobs properly when you are worried about even being able to support the position at all. The government would need to make a significant and sustained investment in museums and in particular in staffing and other administrative costs, for anything to change. #fuckausterity #fuckbrexit


2) Pay. your. interns. Museums function on volunteers and yes, its great to an extent. But where someone is doing proper, skilled work or learning museum vocational skills, they should be paid. Many of the entry level salary packages in museum honestly look more like apprenticeship or internship pay than anything else. Creating more entry level paid roles and boosting the salaries of those working in the more skilled positions would enhance the industry as a whole. But, of course, see above.


3) Fight sexism in museums. Museums are a predominantly female dominated industry, aside from the privileged few at the top of the ladder (and their salaries are doing just fine). It's the entry level and other lower grade posts which suffer from the biggest salaries gap - and we bet you'd find, they are mostly women. Women's work is valued less via a phenomenon called 'employer bias', which is based in deeply rooted stereotypes. This is especially true in the museum industry where people are told again and again they should be grateful to have any job at all.

It's awful and frustrating and we don't really have a realistic solution. All we can say is - when you go for a museum job, negotiate your salary. Don't accept the first thing offered, make sure you are paid as much as that institution can reasonable afford for your role. Secondly, if you do have hiring power, do everything you can to help your HR departments and Trustees benchmark the roles appropriately. Save every job advert you see- especially reasonable ones like at the National Trust. Keep volunteer work volunteer work, don't make people work for free for work that should be a job (even if its more convenient). Thirdly, join your union and use your voice and body to show that you disagree with the current situation, Prospect and PCS are well represented among museums and galleries but don't be put off if your institution doesn't have a rep you can still join - there is a membership fee but its tiered against earnings. 


Stick together and make some noise! Let your  Let your organisations know that if they need to slash budgets it shouldn't come from staffing. Museums are nothing without the people in them.

Friday, 27 October 2017

10 steps to your first museum Lates

How do you plan a good museum event? And crucially- how do you get people to show up for one? A few years ago, museum Lates were a big talking point. What were all those young people doing hanging out in museums?! These days, London museums holding hip and well attended evening events is just standard, with big hitter institutions competing for a culture vulture crowd. So how do you wade into these competitive market of Lates events? We recently gave it a shot and came out shell shocked but wiser…
 
No I don't work at the V&A, but let's face it- this is what you thought of when I said Lates.

You are probably used to hearing about the Ministry doing the attending of events, not the organizing. The blog tends to be pretty collections focused – a reflection of our professional roles. So, a caveat then – this is a bit of a first time. There are plenty of people who are 100% dedicated to engagement and public programming who plan fantastic events regularly. But for those of us who work at smaller institutions where its all hands on deck, its not as easy as separating staff into their specialties. Even at larger museums, you might be expected to give ideas for public events associated with your work. So, with the understanding that we are not pro-organisers, here are 10 things we learned recently from a first attempt at conceiving and executing a museum lates event *(which may be totally wrong and please do leave corrections and advice in the comments!)



1. Have an idea that fits your museum – Sounds simple right?
 With the V&A throwing their awesome monthly art parties, its not good enough to simply open your galleries later. Nor is it really enough to have a talk. Lots of museums hold lectures all the time – and unless you are having in someone super famous, it’s unlikely to be a big draw. So think about what your can do that other people can’t – what themes make your museum unique? Or is there something in the news/culture that could be particularly relevant or interesting for your organization? Have a hook that relates to your museum as a starting point, rather than something general which could be done anywhere.

Images from a recent Lates event at the Royal College of Physicians featuring multisensory installations by AAVM Curiosities. 

2.    
Connect with the seasons 

     So it's October- you’ll have already been seeing loads of Halloween events for the past few weeks. Soon we will be turning to Christmas. It’s difficult to fight the flow of traffic as it were. If there’s a seasonal holiday and you aren’t ‘on theme’ as it were, your event is likely to get lost from all the ‘top 10 festive things to do’ lists and therefore from people’s attention. This isn’t always the case depending on the time of year, but be aware of what’s going on generally in the city and try and draw on it. Keeping in mind tip one above.

3. Include an interesting activity
The reason why Lates events are so popular with millennials is that younger audiences are interested in having unique experiences. People want to do do something with their friends that’s memorable and instagrammable. The big museum lates are always packed with artistic workshops where you can take home your handiwork, silent discos, photobooths, dance performances etc. The evening should offer a unique activity as a ‘pull’ alongside exhibitions, talks or whatever else you have on.

Fun people do fun things like the ever popular silent disco at the Science and Media Museum.

4. Drinks, drinks, drinks

      Yes it seems obvious, but there must be a bar and, ideally, cocktails! At the event I organized recently, I’m fairly sure the historical cocktail we were offering as a part of the ticket price was one of the main reasons people came. A combination of post-work revelry and the unique experience angle. Why not ( just be sure to offer soft drinks as well!)

Why yes I did hear about this event on facebook...

5.  
Pick a date!

      So you’ve got your idea, great. It’s season and relevant? Perfect. Includes an interesting activity? Great. And there will be booze? Nice. So, it’s time to pick a date. I mean literally a day of the week. I got so much conflicting advice about this when I was planning. Some people say Mondays and Fridays are right out. But Tuesdays are too early in the week for people to want to come – and so many people do Lates events on Wednesdays and Fridays! Honestly, I’m not sure there is a good answer for this one. Just from personal observation I’d steer clear of Mondays, but really its all fair game. Just be sure you watch out for what the big nationals are doing – you can’t fight a Science Museum Late if you are doing a science themed event, or the V&A for an art themed evening. Even the Horniman pulls a big crowd of museum go-ers – so check rival calendars first before deciding.

Why fight it? Get into the season if you want to make it on a 'must do' list like the Londonist.
      6. Make a Facebook event
      Facebook is the perfect way to share your amazing event creation. It’s free, easy to use and has great links to the city’s museum crowds. Almost all big museum Lates are promoted this way and its easy for people to like and share (plus it reminds them as the date approaches). Can’t go wrong!  
     
     7.  Get some promotional images
      Facebook might be quick and easy to make, but if you want to get serious about pulling people to an event, you’ll want some eye candy too. Promotional images give people a sense of what they’ll be getting on the evening and help to pad out otherwise wordy notices. Images of your galleries with people in, of people enjoying themselves, of people drinks all work well! If you are running an activity with a facilitator they will hopefully be able to provide you with promotional pictures too. Just check the copyright before you go splashing it everywhere. (And on a related note, but sure you have a professional photographer at your event to take pictures for the next one!)

Doesn't this crowd of museum lovers make you want to go to the NHM?

    8. Push it good
    Werk it girl- Whether you are big or small, well-funded or on a shoe string, there are many ways to push your Lates event (and you should be using them all!). If you do have the money to list an event, it's a good idea. If you have a PR person they are probably the best to speak to about this - but the gold standard for Lates in London anyway are Time Out and the Londonist. You of course can never know if you'll be selected, but hopefully your clever, topical idea complete with drinks and activities will catch the eye of an editor! Don't forget about your own social networks though! London museums are a small world and we all need to look out for each other. Promote on twitter, Facebook, annoy your friends, text your relatives- get the word out! And make sure anyone you are working with (speakers, artists, facilitators) do the same. Partnering up with other organisations to put on an event helps here as well. And one tip for when you're there, don't sit back use this as an opportunity to tweet, Instagram and live stream the shit out the event - for those who couldn't make it make sure they see how awesome it is and book onto the next one!

        9 Invite bloggers
      Obviously museum bloggers are the best! Having bloggers at an event is a great investment in the future. Having people who write about museums for people who love museums is a great way to make it known you are running public programmes, especially as a small museum. Bloggers will be expecting free tickets though, so maybe set some aside.

      10. Check your A/V
      Oh my friends, my last tip and the pointy end of the problem - after all this planning, you've got to actually put on the event! So much to do on the days before and the day itself. Making sure everything is in place, going over catering, setting up furniture etc. Just never ever forget to check your A/V - a broken speaker system, no lighting, no music and squealing microphones can ruin your amazing event in a heartbeat. 

     You've done it! You've organised your first museum event! I hope people come and enjoy it, that you are able to share your museum with new audiences. Organizers very rarely get to have fun at their own events, but try to breath and take it all in. Remember, good or bad, it will be a lesson learned for next time! 
   
Images from a recent Lates event at the Royal College of Physicians featuring multisensory installations by AVM Curiosities. 

Bonus Tip - Plan an accurate budget!! Events don’t come cheap and are full of surprise costs. Listing the event, paying for A/V, speaker fees and travel, furniture hire, room hire, cleaning costs, security costs, catering can all rack up! Add some contingency in your budget and if it’s the first time you are doing it be sure to get lots of estimates before committing to anything. Don’t forget all planning is risky and be prepared for not being able to earn it all back through ticket sales. The goal of museum Lates is audience engagement not profit, so just be sure you have it in the budget or have a realistic idea of what you can pull in sales (and watch out for Eventbrite fees!).

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Everyday sexism in Museums



Image via @feministfightclub
Here at the Ministry we have promised to be champions of women in museums and draw attention to issues that we encounter in our working life. After a recent conversation with some fellow female museum workers, we were left wondering about chauvinism in a female-dominated field. The Ministry of Curiosity’s Terri Dendy and Laura Humphreys discuss big picture misogyny and everyday sexism in arts and heritage.


Museums are in that rarified position of having a female-dominated workforce - a (male) colleague recently joked that having one man in a pool of job applicants counted as ‘diversity’. Anecdotally, those working in curatorial, collections management, and learning often report that their teams are almost exclusively female. Great, right?!


Well, kind of. Arts Council England’s most recent report (2015-2016) states that around 55-62% of the museum workforce is female. Not quite the dramatic split you were expecting? Us neither. But there is a simple, if depressing, explanation. The same ACE report states that in the upper echelons of Arts organisations, it’s still a sausage party - up to 66% of leadership roles are occupied by men. And as for the very top jobs? The museum industry has made some progress in appointing women to top jobs recently - like Sonia Solicari at the Geffrye or Maria Balshaw at Tate - there is still a long way to go. If you look at membership of the National Museum Director’s Council, 13 of 45 member directors are female - roughly 28%. These statistics all refer to the UK - is it any better across the pond? NOPE - of America’s 13 largest Art museums, only one is headed by a woman. That’s 93% male!


And as for why? It seems to be a sorry combination of all the usual suspects. Museums are generally a low-pay sector (don’t get us started on what this does to diversity as a whole), and when that pay has to cover childcare costs, you’re often paying to go to work . Men in leadership roles tend to recruit more men to leadership roles, and representation of power in museum displays and boardrooms alike is rather oestrogen-lite. And then there’s the old chestnut that women don’t think they are qualified or experienced enough, and without encouragement don’t tend to go for that stretch position of power.  


These sorts of statistics for the top of the field are available in several places (if often sorely lacking in intersectionality and detail), but what of the lower ranks? Early to mid-career stats are even more difficult to extract meaningful data from. But something that keeps coming up over lunch, on courier trips, at the pub and in angry whatsapp groups are the stories of everyday sexism piling the pressure on women in the museum sector.


Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the more physical aspects of our work. Collections roles require a range of skills, and in the all-hands-on-deck chaos of a gallery install, from fine art to spaceships, is where chivalry/chauvinism really comes into its own. Women know their way around a toolkit, safely maneuver heavy objects around, and manage large teams of contractors on a building site. And if they can’t do it yet, they can learn! But stories vary from the common ‘I’ll lift that for you’ to the downright outrageous - ensuring that a man is seen doing a ‘man’s job’ by visitors, because it’s ridiculous that a respectable girl should be seen anywhere near a scaffold tower, right?! Her delicate lady-brain isn’t used to heights.  Between us, we have been happily carrying a crate when a contractor take it out of our hands, been ‘taught’ how to screw mirror plates on after fitting hundreds and judged for our looks, not to mention become invisible on a gallery project we’re managing when a more junior male colleague appears.


Image via @feministfightclub instagram
And this behaviour is not limited to on-gallery situations: after a consultant visited a National Museum to talk about representations of women, we overheard three male colleagues discussing how wrong she was: without a trace of irony her presentation was described as ‘hysterical’ and alas, they did not mean funny.


It’s tempting to put out a call for more examples of this everyday sexism in museums (a la everydaysexism.com), but we thought that was bloody depressing. And women don’t need to hear about stories of sexism - we live through them all the bloody time. So, instead, we thought we would ask you: how do YOU deal with sexism in museums? Here’s a few from us to get started…



  • It hurts us to include this one but we’ve been blindsided on too many occasions not to: when someone subjects you to some old fashioned casual sexism, CALL. IT. OUT. This one is easier said than done, we know. In our early careers, on short-term contracts or even as volunteers, we let things go, because kicking up a fuss seemed more trouble than it was worth. Be polite - even when people really don’t deserve it - and don’t let it slide.


  • Are you a manager or a senior team member? DOUBLE the above point. Then triple it. Junior colleagues may lack the confidence or experience to call out sexism - especially from contractors or visitors. You have a responsibility to them to make sure your staff work in a respectful environment.

  • Embrace the sisterhood: AMPLIFY! After being constantly spoken over in a meeting, we were the beneficiary of Amplification: a tactic from the Obama Administration which women employed to make sure bright junior voices are heard - when you hear a good idea that gets shouted over or ignored, repeat it! Say you're colleague had a good idea and run over it again, or make room for her to do so!  


    You know what? She helped a bright idea make a difference. AMPLIFY!


  • Believe in yourself, your abilities, and your ambition. Get a mentor, join a network, follow @MuseumAgender.


So, how do YOU guys smash the patriarchy in your museum career? Leave a comment!!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Five years of the Ministry!

You may have noticed that we’ve been a little bit quiet for the last few months, whilst we've still been tweeting and instagramming our ability to keep up with the website has definitely waned. Can you blame us though? When we started the Ministry, we were just two early career museum professionals trying to make sense of work, friends and life in London. Nowadays we found ourselves (dare we say it?) mid-career professionals, our just about. While we don’t talk too much about our work places on the blog itself, in the past two years we’ve been working hard to level up in our respective careers. It’s certainly been a bit of a slog - Kristin has been doing her PhD and recently returned to curatorial work (at the same time!) and Terri has been working her way up to a Collections Manager role in a National.


Since 2012 the Ministry has been our platform to discuss what’s going on in our career-driven and museum-loving world. Five years on in 2017, we find ourselves in a bit of a different position. It’s been a steep learning curve but lots of fun (obvs). Whilst we want to continue to advocate for early career professionals (and in particular getting into museums), our own careers have moved forward and so to our experience of the museum world. Things change, and so now must the Ministry!


Through our blog we will continue to be sassy, opinionated, strong champions of women in museums and collections care - sharing our thoughts through commentary pieces on the blog once a month. On insta and twitter you’ll find our experiences of exhibitions and behind the scenes adventures (so please do follow on those channels!). While our ability to blog  may have dwindled (we don’t want to stress ourselves out too much about posts with our time commitments), our devotion and passion for the industry certainly has not.

So after five years in the blogging game (yes five whole years!) we hope you will continue to follow us on our journey, be inspired, stay motivated and keep on loving museums! Thank you so much to all of our lovely followers who have been there with us along the way. We look forward to many more discussions -  sharing thoughts, ideas and pet peeves for years to come.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Story so far, advice for students at Goldsmiths

Here at The Ministry we have been big advocates for helping each other out when it comes to getting a step onto the museum jobs ladder. We've even provided some guidance here and spoke at Museum Association events such as Moving on Up on the topic. 

But most recently I was invited back to my old university to tell a group of students from the History department my journey so far, some tips and tricks for getting in and how bloody amazing working in museums is. So I thought i'd continue on this sharing mission by providing access to my talk for Ministry readers. If you want to know more, read on! 


'I am currently the Registrar at the National Army Museum, and with almost ten years experience working in museums  and galleries I have taken on a number of roles in the industry since graduation from Goldsmiths with a BA in History and Anthropology in 2011. From Art technician at Tate to Collections Registration Coordinator at the Science Museum I have overseen large scale installations of exhibitions such as Cosmonauts and travelled the world with objects to ensure their safety and security. In 2012 I co-founded this  blog with Kristin! As you'll know here we aim to provide an irreverent insider’s view into the world of London’s museums and aims to change current perceptions about those working in museums.  Thanks to this I have been featured in the Guardian 's Young, Early, Emerging series and have written and presented for the Museums Association and Collections Trust. 

But what is the role of a registrar in a museum? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag (readers can find more here) primarily I am responsible for implementing policies and procedures, adhering to national and international laws and guidelines all relating to the care of cultural objects. It doesn’t always seem to be that fun or exciting but actually a large part of my day is spent with objects of national importance, I arrange for them to go on loan or holiday  to other museums. I manage the paperwork and relationships  when the museum wants to acquire a new object and on occasion I ensure the  legal and ethical practice is adhered to when disposing of objects. Day to day my job can be incredibly varied, I can be asking the home office for permission to transport a live firearm one minute and the next carefully lugging around paintings in the stores. I’ve been lucky enough  to see Damien Hirst’s shark lifted out of its tank, hand carry an early calculating machine (that looked like a bomb!) across to Germany and install the first woman in space’s flight suit and Churchill’s onesie. I often say, I’m blessed to be able to touch what people are often told not to – but while wearing gloves of course!

I studied History and Anthropology joint honours BA at Goldsmiths and was fortunate to get a paid job within the museum sector only a couple of months after graduating. The summer before landing that position however was a grueling slog, I was in four jobs trying to pay for my rent and get some experience. I gained the experience through a volunteer placement in the Horniman’s collection stores and an internship at Orleans House Gallery in Richmond, to fund this I worked long evening shifts at Waitrose and in the National Maritime Museum’s retail team at the weekends.

 But, it paid off and led  to me getting the position of collections assistant at the Science Museum. This was a great exploration into the wonderful storage centre that is Blythe House where the Science Museum , British Museum and V&A  currently store their medium sized objects. In this role I learnt the importance of working hard, not only mentally but physically many museums are understaffed and so if you want something moved you have to do it yourself. I undertook a large scale collections move of the prosthetics collection, the torture collection and as whole load of Victorian drugs.  One of the most valuable things I have ever learnt is to always be nice, approachable, and try to be confident. This is key to establishing your network. Many of the people I met in my very first day of working at the Science Museum are still my friends and colleagues now. They have helped me to enhance and grow my career and after leaving my role as collections assistant in 2012 many remembered me and my willingness to work hard when I returned to the institution in 2014.

I have always highly valued the exclusivity of working behind the scenes in the museum and in 2012 I co-founded a blog (with the lovely Kristin you'll know well by now!) to show that this industry isn’t all Indiana Jones and old white men.  Museums workforces are full of young professional women and the stores are brimming with 95% of the collection that is not on display. The founding of this blog has been an invaluable resource; I’ve built up a network online and a name for myself outside of the 9-5. This has granted my opportunities for public speaking, writing and networking far beyond what I could have achieved. It’s been a game changer and made me stand out in interviews and for myself has been a way to digest and better understand the industry.

 Blogging may not be for everyone but social networks have had a huge impact on the industry and how it networks, dedicated discussion groups like Museum Hour on twitter have become a great way to digitally converse with the person who your trying to get employed by. Other groups such as Museum Association, Collections Trust and jiscmail have helped me to establish myself within the industry and taking the opportunities  made available have pushed me further. For example Over the past two years I have been treasurer for the UK Registrars Group, processing all memberships has meant building relationships with other registrars across the UK and internationally.

 I’ve always been driven to work in museums since I was little, grateful for parental trips to the local and free London museums I was able to dream of this career. I didn’t go to a good school, I had to work hard to get to university (gratefully helped by the means tested maintenance grants) and so I’ve had to push to get into this challenging industry. Museums have been hit hard by the cuts to the arts sector in the last ten years and so they are often understaffed or work is project based on short term contracts. Making yourself stand out from the crowd and working hard are key.




Many post grads looking for a career in museums while focus their attention on becoming a curator and miss out huge opportunities by overlooking other collections based roles. The role of the registrar may not seem as exciting as a curatorial position but as a registrar I get to build up an intimate relationship with the objects outside of their historical importance.  I understand their provenance, know every detail about their holidays to other museums and help the objects in their journey within the museum stores or on display. Getting into museum collections work may be a hard slog to begin with, it took alot of volunteering for me to start.

 However, once your in its so worth it, its incredibly rewarding to see an exhibition you have put your blood sweat and tears into open to the public.It’s exciting coming across an object in the stores that represents a huge impact to society, and its pretty damn satisfying getting to  hold onto a tangible piece of history be it the luna lander or a vial of opium.'

Museums are pretty awesome if you're trying to break in check out our links or ask us on twitter @curiositytweet for more advice!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Queer City

When the National Trust and National Archive’s collaborate you’d expect there usual crowd of Barbour wearing, cream tea eating over sixties to be huddle together over boxes of archives in a stately home wouldn’t you? Well the collab between the two powerhouses has been a bit of a shocker with their recent joint offer – Queer City. Using the photographs, court reports, police papers and witness statements The Caravan ‘London’s most bohemian rendezvous’ has reopened for March 2017 and best of all for an evening you can become a member and head back to the thirties.


Giving an insight into the clandestine queer clubs of the city in the 1930’s the project showcases the club culture of the 1930’s when being openly gay would lead to prosecution and imprisonment.  Heading into the club above Soho fave Frevd bar the recreation is a step back in time, passing your name to the door tender and moving behind draped fabrics into a smoke filled room or music, laughter and chat a number of immersive theatre performers adorn the space and waiters provide cocktails inspired by the era. Sexual innuendo features in all of the performances and references to the main participants of the day are noted in the decoration – the original owner of the club Jack Neaves was a strongman and escapologist and a sculpture of him holds up the ceiling whilst names of those noted in the court documents are names of the performers. It’s an exciting recreation of a historical moment in time.



Nonetheless the scary reality of the clandestine clubs are also recognised, the front of the bar is littered with quotes from the archives of the assumed ‘digusting and revolting’ club.  And an actor takes me into a backroom to berate me and write a police report on my decision to attend such a club. It’s a stark reminder that we are only fifty years from the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain and many prejudices remain today.
This project forms part of a larger one from the National Trust their prejudice and pride project explored how many of their properties have been ‘shaped by those who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality’ and follows an even larger movement in UK heritage organisations in 2017 to reflect on the legacy of those whose stories may not have been fully told fifty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.
All great projects and great work from the institutions and especially from this collaboration I experienced a really innovative way to look at the history of a group through experience and this was an excellent way to bring archives to life.
It's only open until 26th March so get in there quick!




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