Skip to content

Exploring the Future of Museums and Labor

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Hi, this is Nicole. Yesterday, I posted some thoughts inspired by a local, intimate dialogue on museums and internships that I was honored to convene here at AAM. Today, continuing with the theme of museums and the future of work, I’m excited to share a preview of CFM’s demo on Museums and Labor happening in the MuseumExpo at the annual meeting in just two weeks. 
Following from TrendsWatch 2016’s profile of changes in the nature and flow of work itself in the section “Labor 3.0,” we’re exploring the issue in a suite of ongoing programs over the course of three days. We will host flash sessions, open forums, one-on-one meetings, and interactive experiences designed to tackle big questions around access, equity, diversity and inclusion as they relate to the future of museum work. I hope that you will use this post to spark your thinking–and map your schedules. Join us in person in DC and on Twitter using the hashtags #Labor3pt0 and #AAM2016. 

We are honored to be joined in this work by a group of capable and committed partners. My deepest, heartfelt thanks to the entire team of folks lending their considerable talents to this effort:


Porchia Moore (Visitors of Color Tumblr)


Adrianne Russell (#MuseumsRespondtoFerguson)


Jamie Daniel (UPI Local 4100, IFT/AFT; Chicago Center for Working Class Studies)


Omar Eaton-Martinez (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)


Makeba Clay (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)


Anne Gregory (GapJumpers)


Suezette Robotham (The Higher and Hire Group)


Day Al-Mohamed (US Department of Labor)


Chris Taylor (Dept. of Inclusion and Community Engagement, Minnesota Historical Society)


DivCom (The AAM Diversity Professional Network)


Brittany Webb (The African American Museum in Philadelphia)


Lanae Spruce (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History)


For the CFM Demo schedule-at-a-glance and a full list of recommended events, follow the link to your guide to museums and labor at the annual meeting. I’m also delighted to announce that we’ve added three new events to the line-up.


Friday, May 27


3 – 4:00 pm:  Access, Inclusion and Dis/Ability. Join Day Al-Mohamed, Senior Policy Advisor with the US Department of Labor, speculative fiction writer, and member of CFM’s founding Council for a drop-in session on strategies for highlighting intersectionality in museums. I’m super psyched about her calls for community advisory committees in museums to increase community engagement. 

4 – 5:00 pm: Retention and Workplace Inclusion. Chris Taylor leads a drop-in session on the value of fostering a culture of inclusion in the museum workplace and the importance of retention strategies to achieving your organization’s diversity goals. 

Saturday, May 28


9 – 10:00 am: Museums and Living Wage. Join Elizabeth Merritt and the CFM team in an interactive activity exploring the living wage in your community. Use MIT’s Living Wage Calculator to map where you are and get real-time data on comparables that you can use to help your organization benchmark its wages. 

Check the blog regularly across the next two weeks for guest posts by collaborators from the Incluseum; Stephanie Cunningham and Monica Montgomery of Museum Hue; and Museum Workers Speak outlining their events.

In the meantime, here are two questions that have been guiding my thinking in planning for the demo. 


Why Labor?


Sustainability is top-of-mind across the cultural heritage sector. Museums, especially, are concerned with the long-term impacts they will have on the physical and cultural environments in which they do their work. Part of this conversation about sustainability includes a discussion of what Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole names as the “social value of museums.” In her keynote at last year’s annual meeting, Dr. Cole pointed to diversity as essential for the sustainability of our field. Museums, she argued, “cannot continue to be of social value if we do not do what is required to have more diversity in who works in our museums, in the work we present in our museums, in the audiences we welcome to our museums, and in the philanthropic and board leadership in our museums.” When our museum workforces reflect the diversity of race, ethnicity, ability, and gender expression within our communities; when they are safe spaces for queer and LGBT employees; and when they offer fair opportunities for compensation and career advancement, they are better able to anticipate and create more vibrant social worlds.    


What Can We Do?


Ensuring equitable futures in our nation’s museum workforce is a big job that benefits most from a varied tool-kit. From blind auditions and challenge-based hiring to algorithms, tools for mitigating hiring bias run the gamut between the analog and the high-tech. Public- and private-sector organizations are increasingly turning to a wide array of strategies to help them identify talented applicants. I encourage you to sign up for a time between 12 noon and 3 pm on Friday, May 27 to talk with industry leaders who are pioneering some of these tools. 
Additionally, activists, students, and other museum professionals continue to search for ways to make museums work less as a province of the privileged by being more accessible for emerging professionals with less economic means. 

But the focus on pathways to employment only address one dimension of access. Creating welcoming workplace cultures and retaining employee diversity are equally important. We must find ways to increase equity at all levels of museum work. Our future depends on it, and our partners are helping our field do just that. 

I invite you to think with me–and with them. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and join me in the booth!


AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.