Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Tips for the Burned Out Museum Professional

Hopefully, everyone had a relaxing holiday weekend! This week I’m tying in some ideas that I’ve been mulling over since the 101st NEMA conference. The theme was “What’s in it for Me?” and the answer isn’t always clear in our field that has low pay, large workloads, and understandably, a high burnout rate. But hopefully, some of the tips below will be of some use to you: 

  • Objects – What made you join this field? What part of museums drew you in? For many people I’ve talked to, the objects were the key factor that pulled them to museum work. Whether it was an old teapot or an abstract painting, our connection with the “stuff” is what drew us in. While at the NEMA conference, I had the pleasure of attending a session run by Rainey Tisdale and Marieke Van Damme, where we focused on the pieces of joy that could be added to museum work (if you want to look further into this, definitely check out Joyful Museums). One of their suggestions that caught me off guard was the ability to have access to the collection. It’s simple, and yet, I had never realized that I felt detached from the objects that I work around every day. I can imagine that that feeling is increased when one works in a position that doesn’t visit the galleries on a daily basis. Tisdale and Van Damme suggested ready-only access to the collections database for all employees as a possible solution. To take that idea a little further, museums could even host a close-looking activity once a month. Allow all staff members to vote on which object they want to see up-close and then pull it out of storage for everyone to see. This is a cheap and fun activity that is likely to remind staff members why they entered the field to begin with.  
  • “Protecting your ‘yeses’” – Honestly, this is a tip that I got from an inspirational planner last year, and I pretty much haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s become a mantra of sorts because I hate saying no to people and always want to prove myself as a capable coworker, employee, and emerging professional. However, overworking myself is not the answer. I think this is a common problem in a field where there is rarely money to hire enough people, the workforce is mostly women, and the employees are passionate about what they do. However, viewing my “yeses” as a thing that I am giving to people has helped me to scale back my workload a bit. Of course, there are always instances where its crunch time, and there’s no option except to work through my exhaustion. But the mindset that you are saving your ‘yeses’ for a few projects or events that you’re really passionate about rather than having a hand in a bit of everything can save you from that guilty feeling of not doing enough. 
  • Identify your needs – This one might seem a bit obvious, but at the Education Professional Affinity Group (PAG) lunch, we did an activity that involved writing down your needs as an employee, a coworker, a museum professional, and an individual. Often, I complain that I don’t have enough of a work/life/school balance but putting my needs into such defined categories was helpful to understand where my problems lie. Of course, sometimes our needs transcend categories and that’s okay too but being able to see where my needs as a coworker differ from my needs as an employee is a great way to sort through what my goals are and how to ask for them.  

There are so many more ways to handle burnout! If you’re looking to do your own research on it, AAM published a blog post in 2017 about why museum professionals are Leaving the Field. One of the best ways to prevent burnout across the field is by sharing tips and strategies that have worked for you! So, we want to know: what ways have you prevented or improved symptoms of burnout?  

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Happy hunting! 

South: 

Curator (San Jacinto Museum of History, Harris County, Texas) 

Digital Content Strategist (Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX) 

Assistant Curator (Telfair Museums, Savannah, GA) 

Museum Diversity Fellow – Museum Education (Reynolds House Museum of American Art, Winston Salem, NC) 

Deputy Director (Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY) 

Director of Education and Public Programs (Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, Oklahoma City, OK) 

Midwest: 

Operations Director (The Rabbit Hole, North Kansas City, MO) 

Director of Learning and Engagement (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, MO) 

Manager, Digital Media (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO) 

Deputy Director (Carl & Marilyn Thoma Art Foundation, Chicago, IL) 

Advancement Director (Illinois State Museum, Springfield, IL) 

Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator (McHenry County Historical Society, Union, IL) 

Registrar (Ulrich Museum of Art Wichita State University, Witchita, KS) 

Docent and School Programs Manager (The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH) 

Interpretive Planner (The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH) 

Public Education Fellow (History Museum at the Castle, Appleton, WI) 

Mid-Atlantic: 

Curator of Digital Projects (Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building, Washington, DC) 

Adult & Family Programs Coordinator (National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC) 

Curator (National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC) 

Library Collections Curator (Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Richmond, VA) 

President and CEO (Science History Institute, Philadelphia, PA) 

Executive Director (Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center, Pennsburg, PA) 

Executive Director (Sewickley Valley Historical Society, Sewickley, PA) 

Executive Director (Roebling Museum, Roebling, NJ) 

Museum/Historic Site Interpreter (Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, New Castle, DE) 

Northeast: 

James Nachtwey Archive Fellow (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, Hanover, NH) 

Assistant/Associate Curator of Education (Williams College, Williamstown, MA) 

Museum Development Director (Somerville Museum, Somerville, MA) 

Gift Shop Supervisor (Old North Church & Historic Site, Boston, MA) 

Director of Recreational Enterprises (The Trustees of Reservations, Boston, MA) 

Director of Development (The Bostonian Society, Boston, MA) 

Executive Director (Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, Wethersfield, CT) 

Head of Design (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY) 

Registrar and Collections Manager (Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY) 

Assistant Curator of Exhibitions and Programs (Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY) 

West: 

Curator of Contemporary Art (Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO) 

Curator (US Olympic & Paralympic Museum, Colorado Springs, CO) 

 Education Specialist (Idaho State Historical Society, Boise, ID) 

Director of Development (Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA) 

Development Officer (The Getty, Los Angeles, CA) 

Volunteer Manager (Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA) 

Head of Conservation (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA) 

Senior Membership Coordinator (The Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA) 

Virtual Reality Experience

MASS MoCA has virtual reality (VR) experiences from Laurie Anderson, which you can view through 2020. She has developed projects there in the past and was an artist-in-residence. Anderson is a poet, filmmaker, vocalist, and multimedia artist, and the VR experiences of Chalkroom and Aloft showcased that. For both you would sit in a swiveling chair, place a VR headset with earphones over your head, and then were transported to another place and time that was like a curious dream of hers that you had entered. 

Chalkroom is a massive labyrinth of black walls marked with chalk and glowing portals that you can fly through with a push of your arms. Aloft begins with you sitting in an empty plane that gradually comes apart around you until you are floating in the air, using your virtual hands to grasp at objects swirling around you, to listen to Anderson’s hypnotic anecdotes. When I experienced the latter, I grasped onto the seat because my stomach dropped at the illusion of being up high. In the former, I was giddy flying through and exploring the chalkroom. It was a strange coincidence that I had been seriously considering the importance of VR technology in museums just a month prior, and then got to experience it firsthand. 

VR technology allows the audience to be emerged in the experience of a work of art, or it can act as a tour through a gallery. Curators, artists, and educators alike can utilize this technology for a new perspective on content. It connects to younger audiences that struggle to engage with static exhibits. VR can engage your hearing, movements, thinking, and visual perception. Though VR can draw people to museums, VR also means that people with impaired mobility or trouble accessing museums due to its location, cost, or social atmosphere can access great works of art and history from a remote location.

Money and timing are important factors. VR headsets can range from $20 to $1000 depending on whether you want headphones, hand controls, hand sensors, and a comfortable head clasp. By timing, I mean that if a museum could afford the technology, there would certainly be a limit on how much they could afford, so there may be two headsets that people must take turns to use, like at the Anderson installations that had six altogether and people had to schedule an appointment to have the experience. Despite this, VR technology can encourage new and returning visitors to offset the cost.

Hopefully, museums across the world will engage with this more immersive version of VR technology so that everyone can experience the richness of many cultures from close to home.  

Weekly Jobs Round-Up

Northeast:

Visitor Experience Supervisor (Connecticut Science Center, Hartford, CT)

South:

Educator for Gallery Teaching (Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN)

Curatorial Assistant (The Menil Collection, Houston, TX)

Special Events Manager (Army Historical Foundation, Fort Belvoir, VA)

West:

Manager of Youth Programs (Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles, CA)

Manager of Exhibitions and Publications (Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA)

Mid-Atlantic:

Manager of Public Engagement (Jackie Robinson Museum, New York, NY)

Assistant Curator (Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD)

Fellowships (Met, New York, NY)

Associate Administrator, Egyptian Art (Met, New York, NY)

Midwest:

Curator (Cleveland Clinic Art Program, Cleveland, OH)

Community Arts Program Assistant (John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI)

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Northeast: 

Head of Visitor Experience and Services (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT) 

Education Program Director (Yale University, New Haven, CT) 

Special Assistant to the Director and Chief Curator (Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA) 

Senior Preparator (Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME) 

Development Manager (Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA) 

Engineering Education Associate I (Museum of Science, Boston, MA) 

Live Animal Curator (Museum of Science, Boston, MA) 

Associate Director, Donor Relations (Museum of Science, Boston, MA) 

Production Manager/Audio Specialist (The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA) 

Associate Registrar (The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA) 

Prospect Research Manager (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA) 

Assistant Preparator/Collections Care Specialist (Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA) 

South: 

Executive Director (Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubback, TX) 

Senior Curator (The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX) 

Conservator (Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL) 

Chief Curator (Perez Art Museum Miami, FL) 

Corfrin Curator of Asian Art (Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL) 

Curatorial Assistant (Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, FL) 

State Museum of History Associate Director (North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC) 

Curator of Education, Engagement, and Learning (Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, Auburn, AL) 

Director of Customer Success, Exhibits and Environments (Solomon Group, New Orleans, LA) 

West: 

Curator of Education & Exhibits (Grace Hudson Museum & Sun House, Ukiah, CA) 

Vice President, Education and Engagement (San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego, CA) 

Departmental Curatorial Assistant (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA) 

Registrar and Exhibitions Manager (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA) 

Archivist/Research Historian (Lane County Historical Society, Eugene, OR) 

Non-Profit Partner Executive Director (Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, Fort Collins, CO) 

Associate Director (The Getty, Los Angeles, CA) 

Manager of Campus Partnerships (Stanford University, Stanford, CA) 

Manager of Exhibitions and Publications (Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA) 

Mid-Atlantic: 

Historic Site Manager (The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Rockville, MD) 

Education Program Manager (The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Rockville, MD) 

Executive Director (Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden, Alexandria, VA) 

Special Events Manager (Army Historical Foundation, Fort Belvoir, VA) 

Librarian (Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD) 

Director, University Galleries (Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ) 

Director of Development (Woodlawn Conservancy, NY) 

Exhibit Developer/Project Manager (The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY) 

Collections Associate (Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY) 

Associate Registrar and Coordinator for Exhibitions (Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY) 

Curator of Jewish Culture/Judaica (The Jewish Museum, New York, NY) 

Relationship Manager (Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA) 

Midwest: 

Curator and Collections Manager (The History Center, Cedar Rapids, IA) 

Executive Director (Rocky Mount Historical Association, Piney Flats, TN) 

Collections Manager (First Division Museum at Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL) 

Executive Director (Ephraim Historical Foundation, Ephraim, WI) 

Community Arts Program Director (John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI) 

Executive Director (Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, MS) 

Curator (Cleveland Clinic Art Program, Cleveland, OH) 

Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Modern/Contemporary Art (University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI) 

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