Writing Workshops: A Professional Development Initiative for the Museum Field

by Kate Flinner
Nov 6, 2020

For years, the museum field has struggled to recruit and retain new professionals who reflect diverse perspectives and skills. The financial downturn inflicted by the pandemic has further exacerbated the issue, with widescale layoffs and furloughs that disproportionately affect emerging professionals. While the situation has harmed these individuals, the museum field is at risk too. The loss of this workforce could limit museums’ advancement for decades to come.

The Problem

Becoming an emerging museum professional bears a heavy financial cost. As of 2020, graduate school tuition in museum studies and the arts costs between $35,000 and $50,000+ for most students, in addition to living expenses. On top of these factors, salaries for emerging museum professionals are low, with entry-level positions starting between $30,000 and $50,000 even in metropolitan areas with high costs of living. Professional development is also cost prohibitive; popular trainings and conferences for the museum industry can cost over $1,000 to attend. There are additional barriers to professionals based on race and ethnicity, social class, gender, and sexuality. For those able to remain in the field, many aren’t able to advance in their chosen profession – museum leadership and senior personnel in institutions across the United States continue to lack the diversity that our country offers.

These structural barriers in the museum field are driving young professionals to leave the industry soon after starting their careers. The pandemic has accelerated this process. At the same time, the museum field needs these professionals. They bring a clear view of the needs and interests of their communities that is missing from many museums. They also offer fresh perspectives that challenge long-held assumptions about what museums can and should do.

A Solution

Simply put, museum professionals need ongoing training to help them advance in the field, but the cards are stacked against people who are early in their careers – particularly those from groups not yet well represented in museum leadership. Scholarly writing is one way that museum professionals can gain experience that strengthens their daily work, expands their knowledge, and helps advance their careers.

Knology is developing Writing Scholars Workshops, a professional development initiative designed as a series of cohort-style applied learning programs. These workshops will give emerging museum professionals access to recently published research, expose them to the scholarly writing process, help refine their writing skills, and support them as they publish their work in scholarly journals and other publications. Each workshop will be tailored to the interests and expertise of specific groups, such as writers who identity as Black and African American or writers based in rural areas. Published work can be a critical asset to young professionals as they network and interview. Beyond building résumés, the Writing Scholars Workshops initiative will equip emerging professionals with the confidence and skill to continue writing and publishing their own research or critical analysis. In turn, this series of programs will also benefit the museum field by elevating diverse and much-needed perspectives.

Let's Talk about It

Interested in supporting this idea? Contact Kate Flinner (KateF@knology.org).

Photo: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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