Friday, July 25, 2008

Time for change?

Time for change?

There are some important issues that the conservation field need to deal with, and perhaps this new network is a forum in which this could be achieved. I just want to pick up on one that hasn’t really been mentioned, but is a serious issue.

Pay for newly qualified conservators and Interns (pre and post graduate)

Why is the pay so low?

I think a lot of the issues have been discussed already in an excellent article entitled “the salary conundrum” it is also worth reading many of the comments as well:

However, one additional reason that I can think of is the use of unpaid pre-program interns throughout the museum world, including conservation. Unpaid interns are a means of museums getting the work they need doing for free (based on the need of interns to get experience to get into school). If this free labor was not available the museums alternatives would be two fold, firstly to not do the work (but this would of course lessen their chance of receiving the all important donor’s money) or two to pay for the work to be done…. Our preferred option of course, as it would give museum professionals a job and also look after our collective heritage. This situation is of course not the fault of the interns, but, it is the fault of the museums, and the university courses that demand experience. So I question whether this issue could be resolved as well, paying interns would be a start, and lessening the amount of time conservators need to be interns would also help as this would in theory lessen the amount of interns a museum would have freeing up work for newly qualified professionals.

What to do?

I would suggest that AIC as the body that represents the profession in the US, needs to follow the lead of professional bodies the world over and demand for its members acceptable pay and conditions. For example, the Institute for Conservation (ICON) in the UK has the following to say: (for dollar amounts essentially double the figure)

“Icon seeks to foster recognition of the responsibility held by conservators in protecting and preserving the world's cultural heritage. The high-level skills required for this vital role should be recognised in status and salary levels. We recommend that the minimum salary for conservators should be £20,895 and conservation technicians should be £17,000. We also recommend that the stipend (not salary) for interns undertaking workbased learning be £14,000.”

They go on to say:

"Starting salaries and career progression for conservators employed in institutions should be no lower or more restricted than for those alongside whom they work. Icon supports the principle of parity across the heritage professions”

It is important to note that these figures aren’t just pie in the sky dreams; they have translated into actual practice:

“For the guidance of employers seeking to determine appropriate salaries for conservators, we provide the following average figures based on a study of all conservation jobs advertised with Icon in 2007:

  • Newly qualified conservator - average - £21,115
  • Qualification and some experience required - average - £23,443
  • Professional Accreditation (PACR) or considerable experience required - average £27,351
  • Senior/management roles - average - £36,971”

It seems to me that these bracketed suggested pay grades could quite easily be a part of AIC policy, and I see no reason that the Emerging network could not lobby for such a situation. There would need to be research undertaken to establish exactly what those grade boundaries should/could be.

I personally think these are much more serious issues than whether AIC introduces a certification procedure. There are already little financial rewards for qualifying as a conservator, without solving this issue first I would question whether certification might simply be adding a new barrier to emerging professionals?

I would hope to see the network take a lead on this issue, and to develop a strategy to take to AIC to come up with a means of solving these issues. We as professionals should also consider how we can work together outside of AIC to improve our conditions, and also to improve the public and institutional face of conservation, for if people don’t know what it is we do, and why, how can we expect anyone to care if we are underpaid for our training and skills. AIC needs to take on some of these “Union” issues, or alternatively conservators need to form a union. Perhaps both would be ideal!

I’d like to suggest that this network work with the other emerging museum professional organizations that have already begun to work on these issues (both in the US and abroad), and to research and strategize an approach for the conservation profession. Is anyone else tired of expending our time for pocket change; I believe it is clearly time for a change!

These are just some of my initial thoughts on this issue; I’d love to hear the thoughts of others….

Si Se Puede,

Daniel Cull.


Richard McCoy said...

I think this is an interesting post and important topic.

I remember this coming up on the consdistlist some time ago when I was in the midst of my graduate internship.

Now that I'm a regular-staff-kind-of-guy, I admit I haven't thought about it as much. This is certainly not because my salary is so large that I don't have to think about it, but maybe because I've gotten used to it ...

I think it would be an interesting thing for AIC and AAM or AAMD to take up as a kind off joint project. It is my understanding that AAM produces a salary survey and salary list that many museums base conservator's salaries. I wonder if anyone has any other thoughts about this.

dancull said...

It's good to see that this issue has been raised before; I should have checked cons-dist-list previously about this issue before I wrote the article above.

I have read through the comments now, and they are essentially the same points being made.

So did anything happen a few years ago? I'm guessing not. The idea of a salary survey would be useful. The AAM salary survey is available here:
Unfortunately it is only available for purchase. Has anyone seen it?

I agree it would be a topic that would be well worth taking up as a joint project between all the professional bodies in the museum world, and it should be freely made available. That’s something I would be happy to see my Professional membership fees being spent on.

I'd also be interested to see how many people are dropping out of the profession because they:
a) Can't find work.
b) Can't find work that is financially viable.
A survey of these kinds of bits of information would also be interesting.

I know that since graduating I have regularly spoken to people who are considering leaving (or have left) the field for one of these reasons, and I don't blame them, its something that I think about regularly.

I see the loss of professionally trained and skilled graduates as a loss to conservation and to the protection of all our cultural heritage... not as one response suggests on the cons-dist-list as a benefit to those that stick it out or happen to get lucky.

As conservators we shouldn't be interested in out doing each other, but, in providing the best care for cultural heritage, and being paid and compensated for providing that necessary service.

This however in my mind is not an issue that can be solved by emerging professionals, graduate students, and interns, this is something that only established conservators can weigh in on and have some say in.

As Richards comment above shows, it is an issue that effects all of us, no matter how new to the profession, and whilst it is admirable that he (and many others) have got used to being poorly compensated for their efforts, it is sad that he has had to get used to it. Especially when, despite the current economic climate, the US remains one of the top ten richest countries in the world.

So what are the options?

Angie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie said...

As a post-graduate fellow, the issue of salary has crossed my mind many times. I agree with Daniel that it is critical that AIC takes a larger role in setting standards for the profession in a similar manner to what ICON has done. AIC’s last salary survey was conducted 13 years ago in 1995. These figures were updated for Anton Rajer’s article entitled “Just Compensation: A Comparative Study of Conservation Salaries and Cost of Living Around the World” in the January 2000 issue of AIC News. However, I don’t think it’s enough to compare our salaries to other nations and say that we are doing better. I feel that it’s time for AIC to explore the idea of doing another salary survey and to publish the averages or, even better, suggest salaries for conservators. This would be an excellent leg to stand on when applying for jobs and negotiating salaries and a great resource for employers who are creating new positions. In regards to certification, I feel that this is the perfect time to bring up the salary issue. Setting standards for skills in conservators should go hand-in-hand in how we value our work. If we are going to engage in a national campaign to educate our allied fields and the public about certification, we should be prepared to tell people what certified conservators should be paid. I think this group is the perfect vehicle to approach AIC about these issues. What’s the next step?

I also have something to say about unpaid internships. It is unfortunate that many graduate interns often work for little to no money or with no money contributed by their host institutions. It’s a system that has worked for these “prestigious” institutions for many years so why would they stop? We are part of the problem. Students need to make an effort to look for labs that can contribute even the smallest amount of money to their experience. They are showing that they truly value your work by going out and looking for the money to bring you there.

---Angie Elliott