Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”

Barack Obama


I’m willing to come clean. I confess to being a serious geek for MUSEUM’s ‘People & Transitions’ and the AVISO job classifieds. I usually can’t wait to get my hands on the latest updates and job scripts. They’re ideal for raking insights and gathering gossip regarding the state of mind and level of energy at work behind all those closed doors marked ‘Staff Only’.

‘People & Transitions’ acknowledges promotions and lifetime achievements:

…to assistant curator of decorative arts

…to education director

…to vice president of institutional development

…to executive director

…to CEO

Job posts are even better. They’re such a reflection of our industry and of ‘museum-people’.

Job Description (2009): Executive Director

The successful candidate will have strong leadership skills with experience managing people and resources in a nonprofit setting. Key qualifications include working with a board; fundraising and networking experience; marketing expertise; and proven business and administrative skills. A reputation for strategic thinking is a must. The ideal candidate should have a general understanding of museums and an enthusiasm for managing an institution with a long standing, historic connection to the community. The successful candidate will increase and diversify the sharing of the museum's collection and properties through effective and enticing programming for children and adults, residents and tourists. The new Director will work with the staff to conceive, implement, publicize and evaluate new and existing educational programs to inform the public, raise the museum's profile in the community, increase membership, and attract additional funding.

(Actual Excerpt) AVISO www.aam-us.org

But times have changed. ‘Big Time’! What was a fun; private game now weighs like a guilty, empty pleasure. An indulgence better suited to a more emotionally prosperous time. So I’ve quit reading them. I still admire the faces pictured on the ‘People & Transitions’ page but I’ll wage 30 years on the job that behind every smile there’s a bit of real heartache for a colleague, more likely a friend, a museum-person downsized or detached from their livelihood, career, passion and dream. It’s a shame and even more unfortunately, its bad timing.

Today, we are about to welcome the first wave of Americans to grow up ‘inside’ museums; an entire generation of new visitors is about to come on line and of age. They’ve been toddled, middle-schooled and teenaged with hands-on experiences, customized field trip programs, outreach and web-based connectivity; a next generation completely absorbed by the promise of informal learning.

For 25 years museum-people have worked to implement an industry wide shift, bringing about dramatic ‘change’ and installing a new strategic model. Retooling the way we meet and greet visitors, altering how we test, design and present our exhibitions, overhauling our strategies for developing and delivering programming, restructuring our methods for wooing and engaging donors. ‘Museum-people’ have brought on progress and near total industry revitalization. A ‘cradle to walking cane’ business model is now in place and we can take pride that we’re beginning to serve our visitors well.

Unfortunately as we are about to embrace our success the economic crisis stands poised to stall or even crash the accomplishment. Money is a problem. There is no way around it. Dramatic reductions in cash flow have put all kinds of endeavors at risk and on hold, real projects and virtual ones ranging from infrastructure to outreach. But our greatest loss might be the loss of our true creative engine; the human resource.

Recently, Nina Simon writing in Museum 2.0 has suggested that we must now face an even bigger challenge. The challenge to move our industry beyond mere survival and the never-ending search for sustainability and to push past this toward what Nina so spot-on describes as ‘supreme awesomeness’.

But it’s not only museums that must change. We need to reinvent ourselves and our career goals, because without us, without museum-people, it’s only a venue; buildings, galleries, storerooms, offices, schedules and budgets. It is we who make the difference. We make the plans and set the goals, craft missions, collect, preserve and interpret and it is us that make things happen.
Museum-people are already ‘Awesome’ but museum-people are going to have to work even harder in the future. We’re going to have to change. Change our hearts, minds and job descriptions to meet the demands of working tomorrow.

Future Job Description: Executive Director

The successful candidate will possess strong interpersonal communication skills including a temperament for managing collaborations with staff, communities and local resources in order to visualize the nonprofit setting as an alternative business environment. Key qualifications include experience working with a youthful, goal driven and diverse board. Ability to achieve balance by employing a flexible hour’s staff working both inside and outside the museum and volunteers ranging from teens to retirees. Fundraising and social networking skills a must; bricks & mortar building experience along with knowledge of the virtual marketplace are needed as are traditional skills in collections administration. Ability for future oriented thinking will be put to the test; therefore the ideal candidate should love museums and possess an enthusiasm for knowledge and an understanding of what it means to be awesome.

(Imagined) AVISO www.aam-us.org

Alas in the future it might be a bit challenging to reach MUSEUM magazine’s ‘People’ page but the journey will be much more interesting…

…to assistant curator of decorative arts for building and curating the graffiti and street artists collection

…promoted to education director for establishing an on line database allowing public school teachers to match state learning goals & standards to existing field trip programs

…to vice president of institutional development for implementing a micro-loan financing program allowing the public to participate in making investments that support small exhibits and customized programs

…promoted to founding executive director, the new museum aboard the International Space Station

…to CEO?

Rich Faron