Breaking Up With Your Museum
You did it. You landed that internship, fellowship, job position at this museum and you are so ready to start doing good work. Things are going well, until they aren’t. You realize that your professional and personal goals no longer align with the institutions’. Instead of getting or feeling comfortable in the role, you start to posture yourself on the defensive. What happened? Is it you or is it the museum?
Maybe… you need to break up with your museum.
As an intern, it took me about a year and a half to feel this way; in my first post-graduation museum job, it took me about six months. I couldn’t leave either as soon as I would have liked because of financial reasons, as is frequently the case. I needed to shift my mentality about the situation; it was time for me to go on the offensive.
Think about what goals your position accomplishes, both short-term and long-term goals. No, seriously. If you’re like me, write those down. Write everything down and visualize the benefits of you staying where you are. If you have none, then tell them goodbye as soon as you can; it is not benefiting you to stay where you are. If you have some, then focus on those. It is normally your goal to focus your work on furthering the institution’s mission in everything you do. However, sometimes, you have to remind yourself that this position can also be about implementing your mission in everything you do. It sounds a little selfish, yes, but it can be a good mentality shift when we need to find the best use of a situation.
How can this position do provide that?
If you have the opportunity, focus on the things that are an acceptable use of your time at work while also benefiting your individual success. For example, my current position and situation allows for me to do research on the collection. As my career goal is to be a curator, collections research is a part of that. I will be focusing as much of my time as possible on that research until I am told that I can’t anymore. All things I create, design, research, etc. I am putting in a binder or on a flash drive so that when I am good and ready to leave, I can do so with all of my hard work. Start creating a portfolio for future reference. Save everything! You never know what future opportunities may be hiding around the corner.
During the pandemic, it is hard to find museum work, but I don’t need to tell you that. While I am thankful for the position I currently have, I am searching and applying for other positions that will hopefully lead to better opportunities down the road.
I sincerely hope that we will find a happy little museum place to call home soon.
Sarah Hixson (she/her/hers) is an aspiring curator and educator focusing on DEAI and indigenization work and incorporating activism into museum practices. If you have questions for Sarah, please comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.