Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Talking the Talk: Next Steps for the Salary Spreadsheet

You may have seen the Arts + All Museums Salary Transparency spreadsheet: a Google sheet of (at the time of this posting) nearly 2000 museum salaries from around the world. The nature of the data for each submission varies, but most entries include the name or type of museum, individual’s role and department, location, starting and ending salary, benefits, and required degree. Some individuals have also provided their gender and race. The bulk of the submissions come from museum professionals working in the United States, but the sheet also includes entries from countries such as Brazil, France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Kimberly Rose Drew (@museummammy) shared her story of undercompensation at the 2019 AAM Annual Meeting & Expo

Michelle Millar Fisher, an assistant curator in the European decorative arts and design department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and colleagues created the spreadsheet to encourage transparency across the field after being inspired by Kimberly Rose Drew’s story of how she learned she had been undercompensated for her work at The Met. They may have also been inspired by a similar spreadsheet created weeks earlier by Alison Green of Ask A Manager for the same purpose: to “take the mystery out of salaries.”

At this point, the spreadsheet has grown 1800% since its first day and the story has been picked up by news sites such as Artnews, Artnet, Business Insider, Nonprofit Quarterly, and others. Fisher expressed her hope to Artnews that the spreadsheet “… encourages a conversation between coworkers… If you don’t do it, everything stays the same. Sometimes it takes just one tiny action. Solidarity is the only way to effect great change.”

Where do we go from here? What can you do?

  1. If you haven’t yet, look over the spreadsheet. It’s grown from a 100-entry sheet of mainly curatorial submissions to a nearly 2,000-entry behemoth of positions in administration, collections, digital, education, operations, security, visitor services, and other departments. If you’re interested in downloading a copy of the data, you may be able to obtain one by emailing the contact provided on the front page of the sheet.
  2. Submit your own entry. The spreadsheet has been locked to preserve its data, but you can (and should!) add your information through this Google form. While it has grown impressively, we’re still nowhere near a full picture of the field.
  3. Be open with your colleagues. Workplace etiquette has long dictated to keep mum about one’s salary, but silence perpetuates the status quo. Transparency about salaries and benefits exposes both institution-based and field-wide inequities.
  4. Speak up. In a NY Times article about the Ask A Manager spreadsheet, Liz Dolan of the podcast “Safe for Work” and formerly of the marketing teams for Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network suggests “[asking] for regular raises, noting that the earnings compounded over time [are] considerable.” She also notes, “Sometimes you have to be first and that is the scary part… It’s important to build that confidence.” Whether you are applying for or already in a museum job, use the data from this spreadsheet and other resources such as annual wage surveys to bolster your ask for pay you deserve. (You can find additional pay-related resources under Tab 3: Other Resources on the spreadsheet.)
  5. Team up. Asking for change can be intimidating. Lean on and lend your support to colleagues if you or they decide to speak up.
  6. Share up. Transparency is important; action on the the information provided is doubly so. Share the spreadsheet and other salary data with the people with pockets (or paying power): museum leadership, board members, HR, you name it. They need to understand that this is an issue to be taken seriously, and – hopefully – with our voices combined, we may move the needle.

What We’re Reading: Partying with Priceless Art: Why Galleries Are Loosening Up At Night

Evening parties are becoming more and more common at museums. They often appeal to a younger crowd, offer a new way to engage with collections, and add to the cultural nightlife of a city. Events involving alcohol, dance, and large crowds can give museums of all types new life, but they also come with risks. What if the crowds bump into artwork? Do people even notice the work that’s in the galleries? If not, does that matter or is it enough that people are at the museum, engaging with the space, and having a good time?

This article raises all these questions as it describes vibrant museum events across Australia. Read it here and think about what similar events could be done in your museum.

What We’re Reading: Selfie Factories: The Rise of the Made-for-Instagram Museum

Wonder, an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, brought in more visitors in six weeks than the whole rest of the year. The Museum of Ice Cream sold out a six-month run in 90 minutes. What do these spaces have in common? Their presence on social media sites, such as Instagram, blew up. Visitors took the ultimate Insta-worthy pics, enticing thousands of others to visit to snag their own photos.

But what is the real impact of these spaces? Do they provoke deeper thinking? Could designing for Instagram be a good museum strategy or does it compromise more authentic engagement with the objects and themes?

The article Selfie Factories: The Rise of the Made-for-Instagram Museum dives into these questions, challenging us to think about the role of social media in the museum world and the role of museums in the social media world.

What We’re Reading: Membership Isn’t the Top of the Mountain

Membership is traditionally a way for museums to increase engagement and have an additional source of revenue; however, museums often struggle to attract new members and keep existing members engaged. In this blog post, Eric Bruce, Head of Visitor Experience at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) provides AAM with the third post in a series highlighting Mia’s recent strategies for increasing their audience, including their membership base. Bruce explains their new approach that prioritizes loyalty over membership. To gain this loyalty, Mia strives to demonstrate loyalty to their visitors. With this mindset, the institution has made membership accessible for all visitors with no annual donation requirement and has since seen a dramatic increase in their membership base. To learn more about how exactly they have done this, read the article here.

What We’re Reading: “This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art” -Christopher Snow Hopkins

What We’re Reading: “This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art” -Christopher Snow Hopkins

Imagine your professional life as a chaotic compilation of meetings, projects, networking, events, and a traffic-ridden commute – not far from the truth, right? Now think about the way your brain focuses in some of these hectic work-life situations? Can you hone-in on the million things that run through your mind or the numerous tasks you have to complete? Probably not to the extent that you would like.

So, now let’s make the metaphoric stretch of this hustle-bustle lifestyle to the salon style presentation of museum galleries. Chances are, if you have ever found yourself in a salon setting you may find it hard to focus on a specific painting or object, or you may feel overwhelmed by the volume of works on display. From here, questions arise as to why and how the human brain can’t seem to focus on too many things at once, or why we might feel overwhelmed in everyday life or museum salons? Or how can museums best present their collections in a balanced manner that does not overwhelm and underwhelm the audience? These questions, compiled with the declining attendance in museums, are what prompted the Peabody Essex Museum to hire Neurological Researcher Dr. Tedi Asher in the hopes of finding a means to display its collection that will draw audiences in and increase the relevance of museums in today’s world. In his article “Neuroscientist to Change the Way we Look at Art”, Christopher Snow Hopkins explores the measure that the PEM is taking alongside Dr. Asher to offer heightened sensory experiences that challenge, but also meet the needs of the audience.

According to author Christopher Hopkins, the aim of neurological research at PEM is to continue to promote museums to the public in a time of declining museum attendance. Dr Asher believes Neuroaesthetics is the key to this mission expansion at the PEM. As described in the article, neuroaesthetics is “the synthesis of neuroscience and aesthetics.

Neuroscience could hold many answers to the problematic relevance museums seem to face today. Perhaps visitors are not being “wowed” enough, or they are being overwhelmed by an exhibit, as suggested in the salon-style example. Thus, neuroaesthetics is a fresh approach that could help improve the visitor experience and intake through our brain connections. Asher claims that a “satisfying experience has this delicate balance of meeting and violating our expectations.” Therefore, in exhibit design there is a fine balance between surprising the visitor and helping the visitor make sense of the content.

Asher is also aiming toward creating rest areas that act as palate cleansers to give visitors a break between art pieces, exhibits, etc.  She also wants to develop spaces that really highlight one or a few objects, but evoke different emotions and sensory experiences within the space to accompany the objects.

It will certainly be intriguing to follow Asher’s progress at the PEM and to view and better understand neurology’s place in the museum experience.

Click here to read Christopher Snow Hopkins’ full article!

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