TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  "Support"
Author  :  R. John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  02-13-2001 on 05:46 a.m.
Mr. Koos -

The ending sentence in your introductory essay says:

"However, in order to ask effectively, you must join other stakeholders in supporting institutions you hold dear."

My thought:

I think this is a fair statement: the world between the museum and the museum user must be reciprocal if both parties are to achieve their objectives. But in my own experience the chief museums with which I have dealings seem to have a rather narrow conception of what, from their point of view, might count as "support."

In Sara Wolf's recent salon, we described a situation in which a rather large number of collectors, recognized by the museum to be knowledgeable about the objects of their collecting, are willing to be employed in various volunteer capacities that would seem to make it more possible for the museum to be more responsive to collector requests for things like increased accessibility. But this notion seems not to be attractive to the museum at all. The stereophonic character of the silence with which such offers are greeted is hard not to read as distain.

The only time their ears "perk up" with interest seems to be when money is given. (The "money effect" is quite remarkable. I was once instrumental in getting our rug club to donate a mere $400 for some photography. Suddenly, I was showered with attention and thanks. They practically "kissed my hand.")

My question is this: what in your experience is the range of "support" that museums are able to find useful? Is it truly limited mostly to money?


R. John Howe

Subject  :  Re:"Support"
Author  :  Greg Koos mailto:%20gregkoos@gte.net
Date  :  02-13-2001 on 07:23 p.m.
Dear Mr. Howe
You are describing two kinds of support which in my mind are very closely linked. A person who volunteers, from the trustees on down are typically the most generous and reliable financial donors. In our experience people who are brought in to a museum through a gift of time soon star making financial contributions as well. This type of double support is key to securing an adequate financial base for museum operations.

The most significant barrier to museums increasing their volunteer staff is the fact that a museum must dedicate paid staff time to support volunteer staff time. A staff person working with volunteers can easily spend up to a third of their time in supervision. There is obviously a pay back in efficiency- but it takes some time before that kicks in. Our museum has a ration of 20 volunteers to each paid staff member. This is considered very high. A second factor is reluctance of some staff people to work with volunteers. This often stems from feelings about professionalism - feelings which I am not particularly sensitive to.

Another barrier is that some volunteers want to "play museum." They fail to understand that a volunteer functions as unpaid staff and must be subject to the same discipline as paid staff. This includes regularity of hours and doing what one is told to do. No museum can support a volunteer effort where the volunteer dictates the task.

I personally believe that professional staff working closely with volunteers should be considered as the highest type or most in-depth educational programming that a museum may undertake. Adults are great learners. We concentrate well and we bring our own experiences and knowledge to learning. Museums who fail to take advantage of this are missing wonderful opportunities.

Museums who bring adults in to their programs as volunteers also accept some risk. But there is little worth doing that doesn't have some risk.

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