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What kind of staff do small museums need?

By January 8, 2010 No Comments

Can’t resist forwarding a query from Keni Sturgeon, curator at Mission Mill Museum (a textile museum in Oregon), on the ACUMG-list. Keni, who also teaches museum studies at Western Oregon University, is in the midst of planning “a graduate course on Small Museums” and would like some input from other small museums, especially college and university museums/galleries:

So, if you were in a position to hire a new, entry level employee fresh out of a museum studies program in grad school, what things would you want them to know about working in a small museum? What would be the top three skills they could come with? In what ways do you see small museums as being different from mid-large size museums and how does that difference impact your job?

Good question — what kind of skills do we look for when interviewing applicants for jobs in a small university museum like ours?

  • We cannot afford to hire people who are too specialised; a small museum curator needs to be a jack of all trades.
  • At the same time he/she must be a master of at least one trade to uphold general academic-curatorial standards.
  • All museums want staff with excellent collaborative skills — but for a small museum the lack of such skills is a disaster.
  • Academic-curatorial staff in small museums is expected to be willing to do all kinds of jobs, from cleaning artefacts for the next exhibition (which always opens next week) to writing trail-blazing academic articles in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals.

What else are we looking for?

(added on 11 January):
Quoted from the discussion on ACUMG-list:
Lesley Wright, Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College suggests:

I would be looking for an employee who writes and speaks well, who is organized and task oriented, and who is willing to pitch in and do a wide range of tasks. The biggest difference to me between small museums and larger museums is the lack of specialization. I direct (e.g., administer), but I also curate and handle much of our public relations. And I teach. And I can design an exhibition if I need to. And I write grants. And I lead tours. I would hope any graduate of a museums studies program could do budgeting, and knows how to work with a budget. Grant writing would be a big plus. A familiarity with art handling would be great. And a desire to make art accessible to a wide public is a must. I would also welcome a recent grad’s knowledge about the wider field of museums, as we are all prone to getting buried in our work and lose sight of the bigger picture. Finally, prima donas need not apply. I need employees who can work well with a wide range of people.

and Phillip Earenfight, The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, adds

Sincere devotion to serving the public and passion for the work.
Good judgment.
Flexibility and creativity on the fly with a eye towards keeping priorities in order.
Keen visual skills.
Solid writing and speaking.
Attention to detail.

Great list of qualities (virtues?) needed by a museum like ours. Any more comments?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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