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Making a living

Robin Patel , 02.11.2017
Diversity in the face of low wages
A senior curator once told an aspiring apprentice: “You have lots of opportunity working in museums, but if you want to earn a good salary, I’d leave now.”

The apprentice replied, somewhat naively: “I’d like to earn a good living, is that the same?”

The sector has become saturated with short-term contracts and over-subscribed internships. Highly qualified and experienced museum professionals face a revolving door of short-term contracts and entry-mid level roles with relatively low pay compared to other sectors in the UK.

The sector also struggles with diversity. What chance does an aspiring single parent residing in a deprived postcode have against a 30-year-old graduate in art history?

So, what’s the solution? Museums can’t be just museums anymore. They have to get inside communities and learn to accept that delivering temporary exhibitions and outreach projects just isn’t enough. They have to form solid partnerships with public sector bodies, charities, local development trusts and businesses.

These partnerships unlock the potential for diversification because, rather than looking at the issues from a sentry position, at their very heart they are driven by the concerns and interests of the people and communities that surround them.

New “business as usual” activities start to challenge the established silos of exhibitions, collections management and learning, stepping towards the realms of community engagement and social enterprise.

If you are entering the sector, or struggling to move into a position you feel comfortable with, ask yourself: “How can I use my heritage skills to help people?” Look to your own local communities and be inspired by groups of volunteers coming together to improve lives and collective wellbeing.

Consider offering your services as a heritage freelancer to help groups achieve their goals.

Establish and build projects and initiatives. Engage in fundraising and planning. You may find yourself connecting with people from other sectors on projects and suddenly the weekly worried flick through the job pages stops. Take the risk, you can do it and you will make a positive change through the crucible of heritage. After all, isn’t that what museum work is all about?

Robin Patel is a Consultant at Ergadia Museums & Heritage

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