Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Join us for Museum Camp 2014 on Social Impact Assessment

What is the change you hope your work effects in your community? Igniting compassion? Building a more creative workforce? Bridging cultural differences?

We all have aspirational social impact goals for our organizations. These goals are expressed in mission and vision statements. They are hinted at in fundraising letters. They are stewing in our guts when we wake up to get to work.

But how do we measure them? How do we know if our work leads to an increase in compassion, or unity, or creativity? How can we learn from our successes and failures and adapt our work to increase impact?

These are the questions that underpin Museum Camp 2014, a professional development experience in which diverse people from the arts, community activism, and social services will measure the immeasurable together. Our focus is on social impact in communities, and we will encourage teams to look at complex outcomes--like safety, cohesion, compassion, and identity--that are not commonly covered in our standard evaluative practices. We will do this by defining impacts of interest, identifying indicators of those impacts, developing creative ways to measure the indicators, actually doing the measurements, and reporting on the results. And we'll do this all in three days on July 30-August 2, 2014 in Santa Cruz, CA.

This is the second year that the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) is hosting Museum Camp. Last year, the focus was on risk-taking in exhibition design. This year, the focus is social impact assessment. While the topics and the participants are entirely different, the core format is the same: three days, small teams of people from diverse backgrounds, intense learning, doing, and playing in a collaborative environment. It's summer camp for adults, 'smores included.

Because we at the MAH are not experts in this social impact assessment, we are working with smart researchers and evaluators from the arts, social services, academia, and social justice organizations to make this camp happen. We are co-presenting Museum Camp with Fractured Atlas, an organization that inspires me for their thoughtful approach to making art measurable and meaningful. Ian David Moss, Fractured Atlas's Research Director (and the rockstar behind the Createquity blog) and I are working together to develop the camp content and recruit brilliant counselors to support the process. This is the beginning of a couple partnerships between Fractured Atlas and the MAH, and I am PSYCHED to work with and learn from Ian and their crew. We also have some great counselors onboard from United Way, WolfBrown, and Animating Democracy@Americans for the Arts (and more to come).

If you are interested in applying to attend camp, please check out the site and fill out an application today. We will accept applications through February 28 and inform people of our selections in early March. Space is extremely limited, so I encourage you to apply soon.

We are particularly interested in applications from people who are NOT in the arts or museums. Last year, many campers felt that the best part of the experience was the diversity of people in the camp. The strength of our experience together is partly based on the opportunity to come together across different disciplines and perspectives, and we want to continue pushing for that. So please, spread the word--and if you have a friend who you think would love this, encourage them to apply.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Favorite Fundraising Email

Tis the season for end of the year fundraising letters. Now that I run a museum, I read this mail with particular interest. I'm always curious how organizations represent themselves, what they ask of me, and what they assume.

This is also the season for grappling with where to make donations and how to rationalize those choices. I loved this article by Talia Gibas about effective altruism and the relative value of giving to cultural organizations versus other causes. It is sparking conversation in the arts blogosphere and my own kitchen. Rather than retread the issue, I recommend you just read Talia's post.

I thought about "effective altruism" in a new light today when I received a fundraising email from Machine Project, an amazing experimental art space in LA, entitled "Another Year, Another (Even Larger) Hole in the Floor."

Here is the body of that email:
Dear Friends, 
Mark Allen here, Machine Project founder. As you probably saw, we just did this absurd project where we turned the gallery into a 99 cent store, which led to a disgusting bathroom, which led to a cave, which led to a secret door in the wall, which led to stairs in the middle of the floor, which led to a secret underground theatre. I raised the money to cut the giant hole in our floor and that was great, but I kind of forgot I also needed to fundraise to pay our rent. That wasn't so great!  
So, I'm taking this moment to hypnotize you into becoming a member, or renewing your membership, or making a donation of any amount of money, gold, yachts, or airplanes. Stare deeply into the eyes of the below image...1...2...3....

Excellent. You are completely under the power of this email. Now, without hesitation go directly here and join us for whatever wonders 2014 shall hold. 
Mark and the rest of the elves at Machine Project

This email reminds me that in addition to all the serious work we do to demonstrate the value of the arts to society, it's worth acknowledging the value in providing pleasure, provocation, and joy. This email is a mini-art experience that I felt inspired to pay for. Was that a philanthropic or a discretionary spending choice? Does it matter?

You don't have to argue your way into being apples if you can celebrate being oranges. And if you can do so with a letter as idiosyncratic as your organization, even better.

Happy yacht-donating.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Guest Post: A Shared Ethics for Museum Internships

Is your museum running on interns? In this guest post, CUNY lecturer and former manager of the Guggenheim Internship program Michelle Millar Fisher makes a passionate argument for the end of unpaid internships. It is a strong, museum-focused complement to an excellent three-parter on Fractured Atlas about the ethics and future of unpaid arts internships. 

One of the most poignant signs I saw waved during the Occupy Movement was held by a young woman who politely advised The System to "F**k your free internships." Free intern labor wasn't ever right, but it has become glaringly unethical in the current post-Lehman-crash era. That protest placard highlighted the unpaid internship as a simultaneous symptom and result of badly broken political and social systems.

If you're reading this at work, you're probably reading it within ten feet of an unpaid intern. It's probably a path you had to navigate too. There's a sense of "it worked for me...." And it does - it did work for me. I got my first real job in a museum (at the Guggenheim) after a life-changing internship. My supervisor was amazing, caring, and supportive. I worked so hard in those three unpaid months that I made myself indispensable and jumped ship from my home country (Scotland) and came to New York. My whole career path has been positively changed by that one internship experience.

However, my experience was an exception to the rule that internships increasingly prove: free labor contributes to the growing inequities of the non-profit labor system. Issues of class and economic status haunt the museum internship. You have to be able to afford to work for free in order to take an internship that will help you onto the career ladder. There are certainly excellent programs that try to circumvent this stereotype, and there are stipends to be had in some museums, but they are far from the norm.

My experience was exceptional for one simple reason: my internship at the Guggenheim was the only unpaid internship I ever did. It was the only one I could afford to do. It was made possible by a small, unexpected windfall. If I hadn't had the windfall, it's highly unlikely that as a first-gen college attendee I would have been exposed to the other opportunities it afforded me. (I have somewhat of a "control" in this social experiment in that my talented sister has plied a similar path to me, but was unable to afford the opportunity of one unpaid internship at a museum. Even though she worked just as hard as I did, it took her five years longer to get her foot on the arts employment ladder than it did for me.)

I have done my very fair share of perpetuating the cycle of unpaid internships. As an Associate Manager of Education, I coordinated internships at the Guggenheim museum for four years before I headed back to academia. I expanded the program from around seventy-five interns per year to over one hundred and thirty in almost every department of the museum. I loved my job, and I think many of the interns had amazing experiences at the museum because we tried to take care of them, introduce them to arts networks through a rich weekly seminar program, and encouraged supervisors to be the best mentors they could. But now, as I counsel my university students, I feel it unethical to recommend the same path I took. I have taken a firm stand. I will not forward unpaid internship postings that come my way and actively respond to the senders, even when I know them well as colleagues: “This is not ethical!”

Is unpaid participation in the life and operations of a museum always a bad thing? No. Are the worst offenders larger museums who know they can get away with asking people to work for free? Yes. Is it unethical to ask college juniors and seniors, graduate students, and recently qualified degree holders to undertake multiple free internships? Absolutely. Making small changes and offering some kind of basic compensation for interns in the arts would benefit us all. If the lowest wage on the ladder is zero, entry-level wages don't have to be much higher, and this affects the whole pay scale for the majority of those who work in non-director positions.

Would some form of universal museum internship standard mitigate this? How about a national Museum Internship Ethics Charter that would make three core promises to any museum intern:
  1. a stipend 
  2. a clear written statement of expectations given at the beginning of their internship 
  3. a final face-to-face evaluation with the internship mentor at the end of the internship 
I'm constantly surprised at how many students I speak with, even those who are working for college credit where this is meant to be regulated, do not receive any of these three components. A shared ethics on the subject of internships means a shared ethics for human resources in museum more generally. This type of shared ethics can only be a positive thing for both individuals at all levels, and the institution - and thus its visitors. Happy employees (yes, even interns!) mean greater productivity, creativity, and accountability.

 The students I teach in undergrad classrooms in New York are about a decade younger than me. They're the Internship Generation. The more I am faced with their predicament when they ask me about how to balance work experience that won't pay them with study and (especially at the city college where I teach) the jobs that are paying their tuition, or to write them letters of recommendation for unpaid labor, the more uncomfortable I have become.

How could we all better address this issue? Could museum managers agree to hire interns who need the work experience rather than those with a resume already the length of the Nile? Could they agree to put aside a small part of their yearly budget to compensate interns in some way? Could university instructors (especially those with tenure and a voice) steer their interns in the direction of paid opportunities, and campaign within their own departments to end the cycle of internships for credit? Could we all agree to a universal standard under the auspices of a body like the AAM? Are there already internship models out there that do this that we could learn from and offer as examples?

I'm truly interested in any discussion and feedback on this topic, and taking sustained action. I want to do better for my students, and to participate in the rethinking of a broken model I have helped to perpetuate.

What's your vision for the future of internships? Share your thoughts with Michelle and the Museum 2.0 community in the comments.