A Sign of Things to Come?

Mark WalhimerFuture of Museums Leave a Comment

Untitled (White Riot), Robert Longo, 1982, charcoal, graphite, and ink on two paper panels

I am beginning to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for museums as public civil society organizations and museum workers.

As I watch the news every night, it seems that the last thing anyone would want to do is to hire museum staff at this time. Those museum workers still employed are now doing the work of two to three former staff positions. There is no clear end to COVID-19 (although Pfizer predicts 2024). I watch some museum directors be paid salaries in the range of $400,000 plus while laying off staff and managing closed facilities. I have seen several sizeable well-established museum vendors go out of the business or be sold to use the company name. 98% of museums closed during the pandemic, and 43% of people in the US museum field have lost income. A crowdsourced museum salary spreadsheet went viral, showing vastly different salaries of museum workers and museum directors.

It is impossible to have a museum director making ten times the salary of floor staff and create a culture of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion DEAI. It is not possible. I don’t have a part in this. I am a full-time consultant, but I started as an exhibit cleaner, and this is too painful to see what is happening to the museum field.

“Salary commensurate with experience”

How can someone apply for a job without knowing the salary range? How does the American Alliance of Museums allow this? It sets up an inequitable relationship from the beginning and leads to a one-sided relationship. 

I am sad to say that the United States is heading towards a civil war. Museums will continue to lose relevance, and a lucky few museum directors will remain employed with salaries in the $400,000 plus range. In contrast, most museum directors and museum staff will be underpaid and overworked.

I am struggling to see solutions or a pathway forward; I can only see an escalation of violence and frustration with an increasing lack of relevance for museums beyond maintaining their collections as archives during a time of civil unrest. I was hopeful that museums would play a vital role in the issues of climate change, democracy, and civil rights, but I am sorry to say I am losing hope as COVID-19 drags on and the political rhetoric turns violent. 

I very much hope that I am incorrect.


  1. Is the US headed for another Civil War?
  2. Help Make Museums More Equitable

P.S. The answer to my question about museums is that digital will become museums’ future.

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