Recently the Victoria and Albert Museum put up a job advert for an unpaid voluntary curatorial role. To land this job you needed, minimum, a masters degree and to be able to work for free.
Obviously as soon as this job advert went live, all of history Twitter protested.
And the V&A duly apologised, said the whole asking people to work for free thing, had been a huge mistake and took down the job advert.
Fantastic win right? Well, kind of, but it’s also something that happens everyday in the history and heritage sector, it’s just that this one time, it was caught.
But we can’t carry on staying quiet every other time this happens. Because our reliance on these voluntary roles will inevitably end up killing our sector.
Lets look at the average route into a paid role at a museum:
- Undergraduate degree (ideally from a top university and in a relevant subject)
- Postgraduate degree (again, top uni, relevant subject)
- Voluntary roles in museums/archives (for an unspecified time)
- Part time/low pay full time role (average 18k) possible volunteering on side
- Eventually land a full time paid role
Can you spot the problem here?
Now, lets not even start to focus on the whole, top university, masters degree minimum thing (though we do know that people from lower income, and also minority backgrounds are very much the minority; in terms of people attending these institutions)
BUT can we all agree that the industry is currently asking candidates to do a metric shit ton of free work, before they can even be considered for a job.
It is insanity and it is not ok!
By asking for so much free work, swathes of people are immediately being cut out.
It becomes not so much a matter of – who is the best for the role – and more a case of, who can afford to not get paid and still pay their rent and eat!
Spoiler: it’s probably not going to be the candidate from a minority or lower income background.
But it’s not just that it’s far from an even playing field.
History needs diversity to survive
There are two key reasons for this:
- People are interested in a more diverse look at history
- Museum visitor figures are falling. Too help tackle this, we need to start engaging with new audiences and communities.
Museums have to start hiring people with a diverse range of experiences. People that can research other annals of history, give a different perspective on well trodden ground and develop ways of bringing new communities to museums.
If history and heritage starts to do this, not only will it help ensure that we as sector survive; it will make history thrive.
But how can we actually do this?
Well, we need to ditch our dependance on voluntary roles.
Now I know nobody has a magical money tree, but we can’t have diversity if we don’t actually make museums a viable career for more people.
So lets wave bye bye to this attitude to free work:
Now thats out the way, lets say hello to:
Paid Internships and Apprenticeships!
Yup, you read that right. Paid. Minimum the living wage (£17k, and £20k for London)
By offering paid work, we’ll be able to access a broader pool of candidates than ever before. People who can bring something new and exciting to the table.
Plus we’ll actually be paying people for the hard work they do, and thats just basic ethics.
Apprenticeships can also help bring in people from the local community that maybe don’t have the degree, but that do have everything else you need to be an incredible curator, historian, conservator, etc.
Now, paying people means that budgets in other areas may need to be cut.
This is definatley something the bigger museums and heritage organisations can start to do, but understandably this isn’t something smaller museums can click their fingers and do overnight.
Long term budget changes will need to be planned out, grants may need to be applied for; it will be a ball ache and it will take a long time.
BUT it will be worth it.
We can’t keep on blocking out the future, just because we’ve always done something one way, doesn’t mean we should continue doing it… guys we work in history, we know this.
So, lets keep on calling for diversity. Lets call out bullshit free work job adverts. If you can, start a conversation about bringing in paid internships into your department. Go to local schools and communities and find ways to bring them into your museum.