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The role of the volunteer curator

August 28, 2013

Most museums are volunteer run. That means all the people you see “working” there are volunteers even the ones “working” behind the scenes such as trustees and even curators. However in the public sector the position of the curator is very different, nearly always a paid role, and often an important one within the museum. This status appears to have come under threat with the increasing use of volunteers. The Museums Association has recently headlined the recruitment of an unpaid volunteer curator with the London Borough of Newham. The role in question required the person to “work” 2 days a week and have professional qualifications. Maybe not unusual in the independent museum sector, so why the fuss and why now?

To understand why the MA is raising this issue, you need to understand that the UK museum sector is divided into separate groups each with completely different cultures and attitudes. The MA represents the public sector, and in particular the local authority element of the museum community. Within this part of the sector the volunteer has played a subservient and minor role with the curator ascendant. The issues raised by the growth of unpaid curators are valid and serious; including concerns about the growing deskilling of the profession, exploiting young aspiring curators as well as creating an exclusive workforce that only affluent museum workers who can afford to volunteer.

However these issues have been largely ignored while they remain relevant to the independent sector. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the MA to take a closer look at the whole museum sector and see how volunteers operate beyond the public sector as well as within?

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From → Volunteering

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