Thursday, December 01, 2005
Ask the Administrator: What I Really Want to Do is Direct...
Here's a brief recap of life since I graduated with high honors from Elite Liberal Arts College with a degree in English, concentration in Film Studies. Got a job in film production in Big City, hated it, after several months got another job working for an antiques dealer, which I loved. Having written my thesis about domesticity and interiors in cinema this made a certain amount of sense to me. So inspired was I that I went on to get an MA in design and decorative arts history at a small but well-regarded and well-connected graduate school in Big City. Super grades, and now I'm a curatorial assistant at a hip and groovy museum in Big City. Sounds peachy, right? Well, I make $15 an hour and yet everyone tells me I'm "so lucky!!!" to have gotten a curatorial job before I had even finished my MA (thesis due pretty soon, then all done.) I find myself reading lots of academic blogs lately and (since there seem to be relatively few "curatorial blogs") sympathizing with the plight of eternal adjuncts. I'm doing what I love, but at 28 I'm getting a little sick of being entry level and paying for my own health insurance. There is a possibility that I'll be converted to a full-time employee in the next few months, but even then it won't be a living wage.
One of the strategies I've been considering for my next job leap in this field is a job directing a university art gallery; museums tend to be extraordinarily stingy with benefits, but I wonder if the same is true for non-faculty positions at universities? I have only just begun to to investigate this.
Earlier this year I applied and got in to the Ph.D. program where I'm getting my MA. After much deliberation, I declined, partly because I have no desire to teach whatsoever and I discovered that curators in my field(s) of interest at all but the foofiest of institutions can usually do just fine with an MA and some good experience. What do you think?
First off, congrats on dodging the Ph.D. bullet! If you really don’t want to teach, and the job you really want doesn’t require a doctorate, then you are wise to avoid it.
Generally, college or university jobs with the title ‘director’ are their own ceiling. ‘Directors,’ as far as I’ve seen, rarely advance any higher within the college, since they are usually in charge of a self-contained fiefdom, like a writing center, the IT area, or financial aid. So any advancement would probably have to come by switching institutions, rather than by climbing within one. That said, since you seem pretty clear on not wanting to teach or even be involved in higher ed except in a museum director capacity, having a relatively low institutional ceiling may not matter.
For the most part (at least here in the Northeast – I’ll have to defer on other regions), college benefits policies for full-time employees tend to be pretty uniform across job title (other than, say, President). Salaries vary, but benefits tend to be standardized. (This is one of the reasons that the lack of benefits for adjuncts is such a deeply disturbing issue on campuses.)
At my undergrad and grad institutions, museum directors were major figures who made real salaries. At my cc, we have a very small gallery in the library, and the curator is a faculty member in the Art department who gets a stipend or course reduction, depending on that year’s budget.
Faithful readers – how are museum directors treated on your campus?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.
I work for a private, Ph.D.-granting, research-intensive university that has very strong engineering and natural sciences programs. The humanities side is noticibly weaker and the university does not have a reputation as a strong art school. There is a small (seriously, one room) art gallery that hosts travelling exhibits. The director earns more than an associate professor in the art department but less than a full professor who has been around awhile. It's a ten-month job with full benefits and there's a small gallery staff (office manager and two junior curator types) to take care of the dirty work. It amounts to about triple the take home the curator is making now, plus benefits, and that's in a city with a low cost of living.
Of course, that type of opening doesn't come along very often, since staff stick around forever.
I'm accounting as fast as I can
That is the best way to get recognition inside and outside the university, and offers of bigger galleries. It IS competitive.
The best part (academically speaking) of being a director is a 12 month salary. OTOH if they don't want to give you the salary you need offer to take it as a nine month salary if you have the right to go after the other three months.