About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

American Association of Museums released last week the results of a study that show museums are understaffed during this economic downturn. According to the report, 53% of museums lack adequate staffing. Also, 34% of museums had layoffs, and 41% delayed hiring due to the economy.

A professional training session from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits last year on mergers suggested that nonprofits in general are terribly undercapitalized in core functions. Comparing this thought to the AAM report cited above, are staffing levels at museums currently set by the economic downturn or by systemic undercapitalization?

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5 Responses to Recession Toll on Museum Workers

  1. I cannot imagine that this is an either-or proposition. It has always been easier to raise money for a project than it has been for general operations, so foundation and corporate funding doesn’t support core functions. Members know that their membership dollars support core functions, but is membership alone really adequate to support those functions? Are we charging enough for our memberships? Obviously not. Large individual donors prefer to have their names affiliated with some tangible–the John Q. Smith computer server or rolled textile storage rack can’t be terribly appealing.

    What the downturn has done is drain all hope out of museum workers that they will get help, decent salaries, or much of anything in upcoming years. I think we are all just holding on by our fingernails, hoping to continue to have meaningful work in a field we love, knowing that the work that we want to do is likely to get done much slower (and probably not before we retire) because of a sustained lack of resources.

    I am grateful for my job every single day. I’d be grateful for help though too.


  2. Chad Roberts says:

    Well said Claudia.


  3. As I have had to remind people frequently in regards to grants, there is $0 available for general operating. You just cannot run out there and get a grant to keep the place open. So when I do the grant stuff for projects, it sometimes means I push aside other routine operations. Is that bad to do? Yes and no in that high-profile public projects keep you in people’s minds, but at the same time you push aside some of the needed activities, like collections management–much less high profile but just as vital to the functioning of the institution.


  4. Connie Lies says:

    We have never had enough! Our museum is most fortunate in that the City MUST maintain it FOREVER. The builders ensured that in 1885. The city does not have to pay staff or other operatiing expenses but at least the building itself is secure. We run on the over 55 Experience Works program with one retired Director who works part time for pence. We have been blessed with excellent employees over the years and are most thankful for their invaluable assistance.
    For small museums volunteers and other federal grant funds for staff is essential and we have found it does work well. I thought that during fund raising you could have a program where doners are honored by saying “Wednesdays are brought to you by Acme Atlas Corporation.” Try to find a donor for each day of the week and then convince them to pay the staff costs for that day. I once convinced a donor to fund “Porta Potties” for an outdoor history event so I know anything is possible.


  5. Mike Worcester says:

    Here would be an interesting question: for those staffers who are classified at “permanent full time” (generally over 32 hours a week), how many of them have a second job?


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