This post about low salaries in the museum world led to another post and has inspired a whole train of thought about something I believe in quite passionately, and that I do not think is addressed enough.
Until we are able to break down the barriers to access in the field – of which economics is one of the biggest – we will not be able to meaningfully address diversity. I continue to get comments from directors, education managers, and other people in power that they cannot possibly consider offering a paid internship, and if the student was ‘truly passionate’ they would make it work. Then, those same people say they will not hire applicants without multiple internships post-graduation. Again, it is said to demonstrate passion and resourcefulness.
But I have many passionate and resourceful students who also need to work for pay in order to afford tuition and books. They need flexible internships that can work around those schedules, or that can make up for that lost income. It’s not that they don’t care – its that they can’t afford to move to DC or Atlanta or Boston for the summer and work for no pay.
And until we can recognize these barriers that keep the profession, even at its very beginning, an elite enterprise, then nothing will change. It’s the staff that decide what is collected, what is exhibited, and what is put on the programing schedule. They decide who to reach out to for audience engagement, and they are who visitors look to when they are connecting with the institution.
If we want to tell more diverse stories and bring in more diverse audiences, we need to start by having a more diverse staff, and that cannot happen until the structural barriers to museum employment begin to come down. One of them is money. Paid internships, even if you have fewer interns, is a start.