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Short Term Strategies for Museum Workers

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Storm clouds. Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash
Storm clouds. Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

As I wrote in the latest edition of TrendsWatch, staff who feel valued, supported, and trained are a museum’s most important resource for implementing long-term strategies for financial sustainability. Staff are the foundation of a museum’s performance, and their knowledge, creativity, and commitment may be the wellspring of financial recovery in the wake of crisis.

But the fact remains that salaries and benefits often consume three-quarters or more of a museum’s operating expenses—and when no income is coming in, there may be no available cash to cover those costs. (Even when a museum has a large endowment—and most do not—it may be difficult or impossible to tap these funds for operating expenses.) Laura Lott, the Alliance’s President and CEO, has estimated that up to a third of museums may close permanently in the coming year.  That could mean the loss of over 111,000 museum jobs*. To ensure their long-term survival, some museums have made or will make the difficult choice to furlough or lay off staff. Hopefully by conserving their resources now, these museums will be able to reopen, and rehire, when the crisis is past.

Which I know is cold comfort for people who have lost their jobs. It is my hope that by sharing information and helping us all stay connected in a time of isolation, my colleagues and I can help sustain museum workers until this crisis is past.

To that end, this post offers a collection of resources that I hope are of use to museum workers who need their own financial plans for riding out the pandemic, whether they are working but faced with the need to take care of themselves or family members, or currently unemployed.

Two disclaimers:

  • First the standard “this content is for information only, it’s not legal advice.”
  • This post shares what I have found so far, I am sure it is far from complete. Please do share additional resources that you know of by emailing me at emerritt (at)

With that in mind:

Museum workers who are still employed should familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights. Generally, the Act stipulates how employees of covered employers are eligible for paid sick leave and paid expanded family and medical leave. (Covered employers are companies with up to 500 employees, though businesses with fewer than 50 employees can apply for exemption for some of the provisions of the Act.) This short video from volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts provides an overview of unemployment and developments under the CARES Act.

The Department of Labor provides an overview to Applying for Unemployment Insurance Benefits. CNN has created its own Guide to Filing for Unemployment Benefits that is written in plain English, and addresses some practical considerations about accessing benefits during the crush of applications resulting from the current spike in unemployment.

A free tool called Hello Landlord, from legal experts, helps tenants quickly draft a letter to their landlord to explain why they haven’t paid—and outline their right to avoid evictions under the CARES Act.

Many museum workers are working artists as well. This article from Artnet summarizes Emergency Grants, Medical Funds, and Other Resources to Help Artists in Need of Aid. Fractured Atlas is also maintaining a list of Emergency Resources for Artists in the Wake of COVID-19.

Tips from Fast Company “9 Steps to Take Right Now If You’ve Been Laid Off” covers some financial actions, but also things to do to maintain your psychological health, and prepare to begin a job search, if that becomes necessary.

In this stressful time, self-care is more important than ever. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is offering Helpful Expert Tips and Resources for Coronavirus Anxiety. Shine has compiled a toolkit on how to Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety. This might also be a good time to download a copy of Seema Rao’s Objective Lessons: Self-care for Museum Workers (which is free on Kindle Unlimited).

Be safe and stay strong,


*Estimated from the employment figures in Museums as Economic Engines, Oxford Economics, 2017, which reported that 372,100 people were directly employed in museums. [An earlier version of this post estimated potential unemployment a higher figure in that report–of 726,200 jobs directly and indirectly supported by museums.]

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