It used to be, you'd go to the museum and show your card: Member, the International Committee on Museums; Member, the American Association of Museums, anything to show you were a museum professional, and the attendant would hand you your ticket, it's called Professional Courtesy. Then, some twenty years back, I noticed something funny. I'd go up and show my card, and I'd hear: "Sorry, pal, we're not Government funded." This struck me as odd, because all museums are government funded in one way or another, and all museums live, like most businesses incidentally, on the proposition that if you respect your colleagues, your employees and your customers, then they'll respect you. The New-York Historical Society, I soon found out, was now run on the free-market principle, meaning it was run by folks who didn't know beans about museums, and couldn't care less; and whose model for running a museum was something they'd learned in business school. That's when I stopped going: I don't go where I'm not welcome.
Today's an exception. Because my friends, my fellow-museum employees, union members and colleagues, aren't getting Courtesy, either. Forget about the free admissions, we're talking benefits, and a decent wage increase. Oh: and Management's response to a proposal for an education and professional development fund? "It doesn't benefit the business." I wonder what business these people are in...
So. Today, Friday, April 12, 5:30 to 6:30, I'll be standing with my colleagues at 77th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan, that's when the Museum's holding a fundraiser for the only folks they care about. I'll be standing on the other side of the barriers, which is where anyone who cares about museums belongs. Because Management at the New-York Historical Society isn't simply showing disrespect to its employees: it's showing disrespect to all museum professionals.
Postscript: Give them credit for trying. The New-York Historical now accepts ICOM; in fact, from my last visit there it's obvious that they're trying very hard to accomodate the Mahsses. Why there's even a bronze statue of Abe Lincoln in front of the main entrance—the Great Emancipator, you know. The statue of Frederick Douglass is at the back door...
Paul Werner, PhD, DSFS
Editor, WOID. A journal of visual language.
Author, "Museum, Inc. Inside the Global Art World," etc.
[4/12/2013; revised, 3/3/2014]