FoHMuseums Survey 2019: Part One

Front of House in Museums was created in 2017 to celebrate and advocate for all of those who identify as working in front of house (FoH). A core purpose of FoHMuseums was to create data which can be used to further the conversation around FoH and the museum sector, and to demonstrate issues that have been up until now anecdotal. The FoHMuseums Survey 2018 went some length in demonstrating the issues of FoH and the current perception from within FoH and from the rest of the sector. This survey indicated that FoH were more likely to feel undervalued than those who identified as working back of house (BoH), and demonstrated the roles which people consider FoH and which they do not. However this survey was only one survey with 197 participants. We wanted more data and repetition of the results. More data will create a greater level of accuracy, repetition will demonstrate that these are repeatable and allow us to understand if change is taking place within the sector, for good or for bad.

Over a series of pieces we will take a look at the survey, looking at every question, discussing the results, and asking questions of the sector. The museum sector is changing, but for many the sector is not changing fast enough and not in the ways it needs to.

The Front of House in Museums Survey 2019 was carried out over period between March and May 2019, the survey was an online survey shared by @FoHMuseums account and through sector wide organisational bodies as Museums Association, Association of Independent Museums and Art Fund. They survey built upon the survey of 2018, the intention was to collect more data and compare to the previous years results. In co-operation the Museums Association the survey was launched on the 29th March at the MA Members meeting for Wales.

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In total there were 564 participants, of those 331 (59%) identified as FoH, 199 (35%) as BoH, 9 currently outside the sector and 25 within the sector but outside of the museum environment. All were asked to self-identify what stage of career the participant felt they were at. This method was chosen due to recognition that people do enter careers stages at different points and many change careers. The stages of career were start of career, mid-career, end of career and retired. The break down for FoH was 59.55% early career, 37.76% mid-career and 11.78% end of career and 0.93% retired. The breakdown for BoH was 30.65% start of career, 61.81% mid-career, 7.54% end of career.

Next

A  Summary of FoHMuseums Survey 2018

Coming up

What is Front of House: What does the sector think FoH actually is?

A Career in FoH or a Step to Somewhere Else?

FoH Patterns: How is FoH changing?

Do you Feel Valued?

A Divided Sector: Time for Change

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Museum Professionals: The case for FOH

Earlier this year, we here at FoHMuseums released a survey with a view to gain an understanding of working in Museum front of house. One particular question that has since encouraged debate has been the question of considering Front of House as Museum professionals.

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11 percent of overall respondents felt that museum professionals was not perhaps the most appropriate title to apply to all of FoH, and this has since been discussed.  Interestingly, this question of professionalism applies to the FoH amongst the sector in a way that perhaps does not necessarily apply to other departments.

One of the key arguments against considering FoH as ‘Museum professionals’ is that some individuals are working front of house within museums with a view to simply earn money, not necessarily with a career in mind, without a museum specific set of goals, sector wide interest or requisite skills.

Whilst the logic of this position makes some sense; I would argue that, while working FoH in any capacity has transferable skills (providing a warm welcome anywhere is vital to the success of any organisation). Working FoH in museums requires skills which are specific within the sector; the knowledge that FoH are required to provide to the public can vary from providing directions to visitors to answering all kinds of inquiries about a collection or historic site. We have responsibilities to the income streams of museums from selling tickets, to working in the shops to invigilating events. Front line staff are required to provide essential security to a site, both looking after the safety of collections and the public. Working Front of House in museums requires social skills and sensitivity to visitors needs, patience, empathy, extensive knowledge of your site, clear communication, managing difficult customers. From the shop to the cafe to operations to volunteers, irrespective of a background or a proposed intent 

What does it say to us inherently that someone simply doing the job to earn money is not a museum professional? One of my favourite guided tours to eavesdrop whilst stood on duty is my colleague who recently graduated with a Drama degree- the passion and skill with which the facts are delivered are endlessly inspiring to me and is something that I try to replicate. My colleague is as much a museum professional as I am. 

During a twitter discussion on the subject, the point was raised to let FoH define for themselves the level of museum professionalism that they wish. Though this is entirely true; that individuals can self define, there are implications to qualifying people’s level of professionalism through career intention. Our survey and subsequent presentation of results at the South West Federation conference demonstrated that the majority of museum workers at some point work in Front of House, generally at the start of their career, entering this sector is undeniably difficult, we all have to start somewhere, why not include your FoH? It is important that FoH are included within the sector, the language we use to describe them does impact this.

The results of our survey also found that Front of House staff are more likely to not feel valued as compared to those who work Back of House. We at @FoHMuseums want to investigate this further, but we must consider how not regarding all FoH as museums professionals must feel if you are working hard to provide access to heritage to your visiting public. A lack of acknowledgement of professionalism must surely be a contributing factor.