Why are Great Museum Workers Leaving the Field

Published on “Alliance Labs” through the American Alliance of Museums

We’ve all had the conversation. Maybe it was with your work buddy, or your former museum studies classmate as you caught up over drinks. Or maybe it was you, at home with your partner. The conversation often starts with, “I love working in museums, but I don’t think I can do it anymore because of [insert reason here]. I’m thinking about getting out of museums altogether.”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the conditions museum workers face (see the recent protest by Plimoth Plantation workers, Museum Workers Speak, Gender Equity in Museums Movement, Joyful Museums, the Emerging Museum Professionals group on Facebook, just to name a few. For further resources, see below.) We wanted to know: Are these difficult working conditions enough for dedicated (and highly educated) museum professionals to abandon their years of experience to start over in another working environment?

After the 2016 AAM conference in DC, a group of four museum professionals (Claudia Ocello, Dawn Salerno, Sarah Erdman, and Marieke Van Damme) got together to try to find out the reasons museum workers leave the field. We drafted a survey and shared it in the fall of 2016, asking for museum professionals both in the field and those who have left it. Over 1,000 of you responded (thank you!). Below is a summary of our findings. This was not created as a scientific, systematic survey, but rather one that “takes the pulse” of the situation. Here’s what we found.

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