Calling All Writers!

Now that fall is starting to get under way (sorry to say), we’d like to put out a call for any students or museum professionals who might want to write a guest post for this blog! Whether you have a vague idea of a topic you are interested in, you have something already written and are looking for a place to make it public, or you’re somewhere in between, we’d love to hear from you! You are also more than welcome to take something you have written for class and transform it into a post. You do not need to be a professional writer to contribute to the blog – Jess and I are happy to help with editing. From one time posts to recurring series, we are open to ideas.

If this sounds like something you are interested in, please email Colleen and Jess, your trusty co-editors, at tuftsmuseumblog[at]gmail[dot]com.

Would You Make It As A Curator in 1910? recently published an article describing the tests that curators in 1910 were supposed to be able to pass. If you had the right education and could answer questions about what (and how) you collect things, you were on your way. But curators had to have a little something…more. Other valued skills? Having good “family connections,” along with the ability to ride a horse, steer a canoe, and discuss the correct education and age level that museums should reach. The test consists of 34 short answer questions, like “What do you consider the principal requirements for a satisfactory museum building? (Consider at least five points)”

Some of the questions are still discussed today, such as, “Should a museum receive gifts subject to restrictions posed by the donor?” After all of that, the test requires a 3000 word thesis on the correct organization of a natural history museum. Worried that the test was too simple, allowing just about anyone to become a curator? Not to worry, you should also have a set of personality qualifications that set you apart:

“After the candidate has safely negotiated the above questions he is supposed to be able to pass muster in the following regard. He should have good health, ability to handle a horse and canoe, and be inured to the hardships of camp life and the work of exploration.”

Want to check out other questions on the test? Click here for the test published in Proceedings of the American Association of Museums.

“Modern Art, Ancient Wages”: MoMA Staff Protests and Museums as Employers

MoMa workers protest outside Party in the Garden benefit. Photograph: Stacey Anderson, from The Guardian

MoMa workers protest outside Party in the Garden benefit. Photograph: Stacey Anderson, from The Guardian

Last Tuesday was MoMA’s annual Party in the Garden, a benefit that honors artists and boasts an impressive VIP guest list. This year, the guests, who paid $25,000 to $100,000 per table, were greeted by dozens of museum staff with signs that read “Modern Art, Ancient Wages” and “MoMA, Don’t Cut Our Healthcare.” The protest, organized by MoMA staff and their union, is in response to proposed cuts to their healthcare plan. While there is a long and rich history of protesting MoMA, these actions highlight the politics of museum employment that extend far beyond MoMA’s midtown territory.

Art history is a strange field. Our scholarship focuses on a world full of very expensive objects with actual monetary values and still manage to produce volumes of fundamentally Marxist-dominated discourse. Art museums are steeped in cultural capital and often have correspondingly high admission fees (obviously, MoMA is no exception to this). However, the salaries of museum employees, the people who are responsible for the museum’s daily function, rarely correlate to the public view of museums as places of wealth.

Victoria Wong, a library assistant at MoMA, truthfully told Hyperallergic that “nobody gets a job at a museum to become a millionaire.” Unless you’re working at the very top, the museum world is overly competitive and underpaid (not the mention the gendered and racialized politics of who becomes directors). American artist Fred Wilson perfectly proved the disjuncture between the visibility and respect of different positions in the museum when he dressed in a guard’s uniform and was subsequently ignored by the visitors as part of his 1991 installation, Guarded View.

Black headless mannequins dressed as museum guards, from Fred Wilson's Guarded View. Image from Arts Observer.

Black headless mannequins dressed as museum guards, from Fred Wilson’s Guarded View. Image from Arts Observer.

So why do we choose to enter this field? Personally, I’m doing it because I genuinely care about preserving all material forms of history and displaying them for public access. And although the answer will undoubtedly vary between individuals, I’d bet we all have a honest connection and dedication to the true mission of museums. And if you follow the MoMA Local 2110’s instagram, you’ll get a taste of their undying love for MoMA’s collection, even while protesting. However, no institution should take advantage of its employees’ honest commitment without proper compensation. We talk a lot about making museums inviting and attractive to the public, but we also should hold them to the same standards as workplaces for employees.