I was browsing through my Facebook this morning and came upon a link to a post on the AAM Center for the Future of Museums blog and its resulting comments. The article addresses the relevancy of museum studies degree programs, once again, and the issue of diversity within these programs and the impact on the museum field. While some of the comments about the article were positive, such as, “My graduate program cohort consisted of people from very diverse backgrounds” and “I don’t think that ceasing to hire Museum Studies graduates is any sort of solution to the problem,” there was also this gem, “I fear that the degree programs are not significantly improving the profession or the professional experience of graduates.” Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but obviously as a museum studies graduate student, I felt I needed to add my two-cents.
First of all, graduate programs for museum studies are not the end all, be all, but are often necessary requirements for certain positions, including upper management jobs. I would hope that students enrolled in museum studies graduate programs understand that they need to make an effort outside of the classroom to volunteer or intern with museums at the local level in order to apply their education. My arts and administration program facilitates many such opportunities for us to connect to arts organizations and museums in our state and beyond, and additionally encourages us to widen our network of knowledge. I have done this by taking art history classes, educational courses, and nonprofit management courses. Many of my peers are pursuing a certificate in non-profit management, and are learning many skills in the classroom, including how to create and analyze financial documents, a skill that could potentially take much more time and trial and error to figure out in the field.
Just as with any profession, a higher degree is a great resume builder and does provide the individual with professional development, research skills, context of the field, and an excellent network of peers, in addition to other knowledge and skills I touched upon above. We need those who take the academic route as much as we need those who have always been in the field; we can learn from each other! Practice feeds into research, research into practice, and the practitioner should not fault the researcher for their contribution to the field. The UK is leaps and bounds ahead of the United States in attempting to ground museum research in academic legitimacy. This is important, for one thing to elevate the museum field research to equal status as art historical research. Gasp! In addition, we need research! We need people who understand how to accomplish it, we need those who know how to communicate it, and we need those who can apply it.
Diversity is a huge issue and one that I am pleased to say I will be tackling in my research. Yes, I do plan to accomplish something relevant through my research, and yes, I am a white female, the majority according to the post, “More on the Future of Museum Studies.” The point is not to eliminate the hiring of professionals from museum studies programs. The point is for arts and administration, arts management, curatorial degree, and museum studies graduate programs to extend their reach to those from different cultures, ethnicities, and socio-economic positions, in addition to offering a more diverse range of course-work, opportunities for professional development, and expanded skill requirements.