This sector is rife with under pay, we see it across the sector almost on a daily basis and has been recognised as a “major problem for the sector” not keeping up with the cost of living or with comparable roles in other sectors (Museums Association 2017). Beyond pay there are debates surrounding employment structures, the use of volunteers and the impact of staffing budgets cuts which are seen to be causing the “hollowing out” of curatorial roles, putting the long-term sustainability of collections at risk. This sectors workforce is at threat, and for many in crisis.
The narrative which has surrounded the Tate Head of Coffee news story, has unfortunately revealed divisions within the sector and exposed the reality of pay in the sector to a national audience. This is an important moment for the sector to reflect on itself, the workforce to come together and ultimately to pressure the sector to change for good. The Head of Coffee role was valued by some as an example of an actual decent wage in the museum sector. But for some saw it was all that is wrong with the sector, an understanding that could be interpreted as devaluing the role front/public facing staff do in the museum sector, and ensuring divisions remain.
Division within the sector makes all of us weaker, a unified workforce is a stronger workforce capable of advocating for change with greater urgency and impact. We need to just look at the impact, movements such as Fair Museums Jobs and Art and Museum Transparency have had, holding organisations accountable and advocating for a unified workforce.
The Head of Coffee is an important role. Café’s are part of the experience, so many museum cafés have bad or average coffee, you would never go to them if you weren’t visiting the museum. Employing someone to develop your coffee, done right is going to improve the quality of coffee, produce more sales and begin to attract customers who are going out for the coffee. I would definitely go to a museum coffee shop if I knew the coffee was going to be good. It is creating another reason to engage with museums, someone going for coffee is through the door, and more likely to engage with the museum. Beyond just coffee, how we engage with museums has changed the the museum environment has grown in significance, the cafe and shop are more important in creating the expected experience than ever before.
By seeing the Head of Coffee as an important role, I am not thereby seeing any other role as lesser. This job, paying what is perceived as a good wage (is it? I don’t know, do you?) is unrelated to the underpayment of any other role. What links these two separate things is a sector which for years has been underpaying its workforce, putting many through hardship, forcing many to leave the sector, whilst maintaining a sector built on privilege and gate keeping. Sector wide low pay is the issue here, not the wage of one role. We see low pay every week it has been normalised, but it does not have to be. Fantastic grassroot organisations such as Fair Museum Jobs have emerged campaigning for real change, joining your relevant union strengthens the workforce, unity is our strength, campaigning for sector wide change is what is needed. Together we are stronger.
Museums Association Salary Guidelines: https://www.museumsassociation.org/workforce/salary-guidelines
Fair Museums, https://fairmuseumjobs.wordpress.com/
Art and Museum Transparency on twitter @AMTransparency