By Tara Young
As trustees know, museums are complex institutions. At a large museum, especially, there are seemingly thousands of moving parts that enable the institution to carry out its mission, engage audiences, navigate changes happening in the field and in communities, and ensure financial stability, not to mention the daily operations and oversight of staff. The pace of museum work, coupled with the fact that departments can feel somewhat siloed, means that getting a bird’s eye view can be tricky for even the most seasoned trustee. It’s hard to keep track of those thousands of moving parts while focusing on one’s own role in the institution.
My recently published book So You Want to Work in a Museum? can help. While written primarily for students, recent graduates, and career changers who want to learn more about the field they are considering or planning to enter, trustees may find it useful as well.
The book starts out looking at museums by type and by structure; though I mention university museums, municipal museums, and other governance models, the focus is on board-governed nonprofit museums. Then, it moves on to organizational structure. Because museums are idiosyncratic, no one structure can describe every institution, but the sample organizational chart I created gives an example. In writing about structure, I wanted to focus on the trustee role, something that’s not often introduced to prospective or entry-level staff. Not only do I think it’s important for staff at all levels to know about the various ways in which trustees serve museums, but I also wanted to show that trustees and staff are partners in working toward the museum’s mission. Though junior staff might not have many opportunities to interact with trustees, I discuss ways that staff at all levels can get to know board members and see them in action (while keeping in mind that staff should check with their supervisors to learn about protocols for communicating with trustees).
The section of the book that trustees might find most useful is a department-by-department guide. Within each department, I look at three or four specific jobs, covering the main tasks along with the required skills and recommended preparation. Each job also has a section called “keep in mind.” These are aspects of the role that are neither pros nor cons, but rather are points to consider that might not be apparent, like the fact that education jobs require significant weekend work, or that conservators often get the chance to travel with artworks as couriers.
Board members at most museums likely have regular interaction with curators, development and membership staff, conservators, and educators (though this will vary by institution). Trustees are much less likely to get a window into other jobs that are not as visible but are still key among all those moving parts. Not only are roles like registrar, facilities manager, shop buyer, mount maker, conservation technician, and prospect researcher important, but they’re also quite interesting to learn about. Staff in those roles are accustomed to constantly having to explain what they do; they would undoubtedly appreciate trustees taking the time to learn more about their responsibilities.
For each department, I profiled someone currently working in one of the positions covered in that chapter. These profiles include people from across the country; from history, science, art, college, and specialty museums; from museums with staff that can be counted in the dozens to those with several hundred employees.
Former MTA President and Trustee Emerita Mary Baily Wieler graciously provided a profile for the book. She wrote about aspects of her background that prepared her for board work, talked about the ways her museum service differs between institutions, and mentions some of the highs and lows: “My favorite part of the job is tackling the tough issues and making decisions to ensure the financial sustainability of the museum and providing proper governance oversight of the museum director. My least favorite part of the job is chasing donors to renew their memberships.” Mary also gives some excellent advice to prospective staff: “Civic engagement is a rewarding part of one’s professional and personal life. I’ve made life-long friends and enhanced my skills all in support of each museum’s mission. I would highly recommend board service to anyone contemplating joining the museum field.” She also makes an important point about the staff and trustees’ common goals: “Museum staff members need to recognize that board members are their partners in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the museum. They are volunteers, dedicated to the museum’s mission and providing wisdom and oversight for the greater good and in the public trust.”
I greatly appreciate Mary’s input, which makes the trustee role more accessible to readers. I hope that book similarly sheds a light on the complex behind-the-scenes realm of museum work, and that trustees find this bird’s-eye view useful.
Tara Young is an independent museum consultant based in Massachusetts. She teaches museum studies at Tufts University and has worked in and with museums for more than 20 years. Visit her website at www.tarayoungconsulting.com.
MTA members and Baltimore museums senior staff enjoyed MTA's inaugural Meet-UP! on June 21st at the Maryland Historical Society.
Two lively interactive sessions were led by William Jarvis, Managing Director, Marketing Strategy & Delivery for Bank of America Private Bank. This discussion was based around insights into the motivations, priorities and strategies of wealthy donors, and provided a primer on investment governance.
The Bank of America Private Bank 2018 Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy is an essential resource for trustees and development staff to understand what wealthy donors are motivated by today.
Bank of America publishes a biennial series of reports on high-net worth philanthropy in the United States, providing data on giving broken down by gender, race and ethnicity, and generations. This data reveals trends and preferences that can inform your museum’s fundraising and donor stewardship efforts.
The 2018 Study was conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Click through below to read the Executive Summary and the full report (63 pages).
By Connie Rosemont and Daniel Keegan, Senior Search Consultants, Museum Search & Reference
At Museum Search & Reference we are often asked about executive transitions and, in particular, about the onboarding process for new directors. We have found that onboarding is sometimes overlooked by boards and search committees who may assume that their work is done, that the new director will know what to do, whom to meet, and where all the institutional knowledge is stored. We recommend to our clients that, having just completed the new executive-director hire, the board take the steps to ensure it will be a productive and lasting leadership tenure by giving serious attention to an onboarding plan. We developed a whitepaper on onboarding to serve as a process guide and materials checklist for museum boards and new executive directors, and we share it here with trustees nationally.
The first months of a new director’s arrival are arguably the most critical time for ensuring a smooth transition and continued institutional momentum. Museums and boards are wise to ensure that the post-hire onboarding phase is carried out with design, forethought and commitment. We hope that sharing our consultant expertise with you will further this process more widely. We welcome your comments and suggestions.
In our ever changing and growing communities, focusing on developing the audience for your museum is essential. We encourage trustees to take an active role in getting to know their museum’s community and potential audience, as well as taking steps to create offerings that will welcome them in.
A prime audience-building opportunity is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the US Department of Defense: Blue Star Museums.
Since 2009, the Blue Star Museums program grants free admission for active duty military families to museums across the country over the summer each year. The program was created to recognize the contributions of US military service members and thank them for their service. School is out, but most importantly summer is relocation time in the military. Whether driving across country to a new base or looking for activities in their new community, the Blue Star list of 2000 + participants is the go-to-resource for museum information. Even if your museum offers free admission, you can encourage service members to visit with a promotion such as free parking or a free beverage in the museum café . As the mother of a Captain USMC and the aunt of a Navy SEAL, I know firsthand how much these incentives matter and are appreciated.
The program is easy to take part in. Register online (must be repeated each year) and you will receive info on admissions eligibility and promotional materials. It's easy to do and to sign up. This year’s program runs from Armed Forces Day (May 18) to Labor Day (September 2). Learn more at the link below!
By Mary Baily Wieler, MTA President
Since 2002 when our first edition of Templates for Trustees was released, MTA has provided tools for transforming museum board composition. MTA believes in the importance of a mission-driven board reflecting and understanding the current composition of its community and the people they serve. It is our goal to help you clearly see your current board and set strategic goals to reach your future vision.
Self-reflection is the first step to determining how to diversify your board. As 2019 board rosters are newly finalized, now is the perfect time to perform a self-evaluation of your board’s demographics.
Our new edition of the Building Museum Boards template provides the perfect tool for collecting and reporting on board data; your Governance and Nominating Committee can work with our cloud-based system to add board members to your museum’s account, send a tailored profile survey via email, and have responses automatically tabulated. You can easily pull reports on the data they submit and have a clear overview of your board’s composition. In your assessments, it is important to consider not just factors of age, gender, and ethnic background, but also expertise, skills, personality, and areas of influence. A balance of all of these factors are important to creating a robust and self-aware board.
Only by collecting and reviewing this data can you begin to understand the steps that your board needs to take to diversify; further tools in Building Museum Boards will help you to manage your prospective board member list and firm up the ongoing responsibilities of individuals and committees to ensure that the steps you take now continue into the future. The work of the Governance and Nominating Committee is never done; your board profile is not a static document and it will evolve over time as new board members join, others term out, and your strategic plan changes.
MTA members also can take advantage of our Resource Library that contains sample governing documents and board diversity plans. Our members freely share these documents and encourage adaptive reuse.
It is never too early for self-reflection and our affordable tools give you the resources you need to get the process started.
Earlier this month, the Alice L. Walton Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a historic philanthropic grant to support board diversity and inclusion in the field. In partnership with the American Alliance of Museums, 50 museums in 5 cities will be studied over a multi-year period. We know many of you are already tackling this work at the board and staff levels. If you haven’t started, there is no better time than the new year to begin. MTA is ready to help and looks forward to tracking the progress that our field can continue to make in this arena.
In 2002, I was a new trustee at The Walters Art Museum. Then Director Gary Vikan urged me and other new board members to consider attending MTA’s workshop in San Diego. My participation at that meeting has informed my life in so many ways. Why I continued to attend MTA meetings and later joined the Board was because I felt that MTA’s programming addressed gaps in my knowledge of the museum field and taught me best governance practices. Most importantly, MTA panels were always future thinking and challenging the normally accepted practices. The topic of DEAI has dominated our field in 2018. Reflecting on these aspirations, I was drawn to our archives and a MTA 1995 Workshop entitled Inclusion: Investing in Our Communities and would like to share these take-a-ways from that meeting and how they are still relevant to our discussions 20+ years later.
Redressing history is crucial. We must change the way we view the past to make changes for the future. As much as we want to move forward with inclusive practices on our boards, staffs, and programs, we must also ask:
• What is in our collection?
• What are the objects that we’ve been stewarding?
• Who has contributed them?
• How have they been collected?
• Is there another way of looking at our collections?
The Star Wars exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts illustrated that the influence of mass media and the draw of popular culture can be just as important as ethnicity in attracting new audiences. As the boundaries of communities change, this powerful phenomenon links all kinds of different communities together. Fiercely debated by the board, the exhibition raised questions about the whole notion of what is art, the distinction between high and low culture, the goals of the institution, and whether it is appropriate to cater to the mass market. When we’re exploring reciprocal relationships, we can’t settle for easy definitions of diversity. Popular culture, mass media, and youth culture are all part of the complex world in which we live.
Inclusion requires deep staff changes that go beyond the level of education and community outreach departments or guard staff. Our institutions must invest in young, emerging, diverse leadership. Rather than saying, “We’ve looked, but we can’t find any of those trustees for our board or any of those curators for our staff,” we must help them, educate them, bring them along. Community knowledge comes in many forms; it is not simply academic. It may be narrative history, oral history, or the wisdom of elders. The Galleria de la Raza has launched a project called Regeneracion that provides art students in California with opportunities to produce exhibitions, catalogs, and brochures. Most importantly, it teaches them how to find funding and organize themselves. In only three years, this project will produce as many as twenty young Latinos who will end up in the field of arts and culture. Imagine the impact if larger-scale institutions would commit to developing emerging, young, diverse leadership!
By Mary Baily Wieler, MTA President
MTA President Mary Baily Wieler was featured on the Alexander Haas Futures in Fundraising podcast on September 4, 2018.
The Futures in Fundraising series releases a new podcast on Tuesdays at 10am Eastern on Facebook Live. Recordings of the podcasts are available on the Alexander Haas website:
By Mary Baily Wieler
Last month’s Tips for Trustees post conveyed the importance of having a board composition that embodies diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI). This month, we turn to DEAI-focused talent management and recruitment policies for your museum’s staff and the board’s role in setting this as a strategic priority.
Having a staff that embodies diversity, equity, access and inclusion is essential to ensuring that your museum’s daily operations include and welcome your community, as well as helping to grow and support a changing talent pool. Board meetings rarely devote time to human resource matters as that is the role of the Director and staff to implement. To move DEAI forward to a board agenda item, the board can review your museum’s strategic plan and make sure that it addresses recruitment policies and hiring practices that supports the museum’s goals. To start the conversation, the board can ask the staff to supply baseline employee demographic data, compare it to recent census data and then work together to set targets to achieve over time the desired workforce composition.
As your board strives for DEAI, also consider reviewing compensation policies as a part of your strategic resources plan. Only by ensuring that fair compensation is included in the budget can you expect to have a financially stable staff, which is essential for their satisfaction and willingness to stay long-term. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the cost savings of long-term employees versus high staff turnover. To help set compensation policies, the board and staff can consider the recent salary surveys published by AAM (purchase) and AAMD (free) as well as costs of living in the area (see MIT’s living wage calculator here). In a time where many young people entering the field are burdened with student debt, ensuring that your museum’s salaries can reasonably cover their expenses is essential to opening your doors to applicants from different backgrounds and economic classes.
Transparent job descriptions also can help your museum recruit a more diverse candidate pool; conveying salary ranges, benefits, and time commitments in job postings can help the museum to attract the right applicants and save everyone time during the interview and hiring process. There are growing trends for job boards to give priority to positions that state compensation packages, so not including this could make your museum’s postings get lost in the shuffle and decrease your chances that a wide range of star applicants will apply.
Being realistic and up front about job requirements is essential in finding 21st century talent for your museum. This is all part of a strong DEAI-focused talent management plan. While your human resource managers will handle the details of recruitment and hiring, the board can set policies and supply realistic budgets that will ensure that the right applicants find their way to you. Transparency about your museum’s needs and a realistic perspective of the museum field’s workforce are essential to your success.
MTA members can access additional resources in our Online Resource Library, such as Diversity in the New York City Cultural Affairs Community and Arts Consulting Group’s The Three Sides of Organizational Diversity. Additionally, this article is a resource on gender equity in the museum workplace.
At the Museum Trustee Association, we often speak on the importance of having a diverse board and the steps that you can take to improve your board’s composition.
Defined in AAM’s recent report Facing Change: Insights from AAM’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Working Group as “all the ways that people are different and the same at the individual and group levels,” diversity is not just a matter of ethnic background. Economic class, gender, age, and family status are important factors, as are areas of expertise, skills, and personality styles.
Keeping track of all of these factors can be a challenge, especially considering the number of board members you may have. MTA does not recommend a specific number of board members; rather, we encourage you to evaluate your museum’s community, needs, and influencers when determining the number of seats at your board table.
So how do you keep track of all of these factors? Self-identification is a great first step. Your museum’s director or board liaison may not be able to identify the accurate categorizations for every one of your board members. In MTA’s Building Museum Boards, part of our Templates for Trustees series, we encourage board members to fill out and submit to their museum an Individual Board Member Profile. This gives board members the opportunity to provide their own information, which lets them choose how they will be categorized by the museum in the board matrix.
The Individual Board Member Profile comes pre-populated with demographic questions to collect data on everything from the number of volunteer hours someone can contribute to board member’s areas of influence in the community. Everything in this template can be customized, so you are able to add additional categories depending on your areas of concern. The online application portion of Building Museum Boards compiles this information and creates charts and graphs to help Directors, Chairs, and the full board to see trends and gaps in board diversity.
Taking the time to gather accurate information and compile it in a digestible way is an essential step towards evaluating and improving your board’s diversity.
As you consider your current board, your ideal board, and the steps you need to take to bridge gaps between the two, keep the DEAI definitions in mind. Summer is a great time for boards and staff to work together to plan their next board cycle.
Diversity: all the ways that people are different and the same at individual and group levels.
Equity: fair and just treatment of all members of a community.
Accessibility: providing equitable access to everyone, regardless of their abilities and experience.
Inclusion: the intentional, ongoing effort to value and respect all individuals, as well as making consistent efforts to include diverse individuals in your circle.