Work Problems

Work is a mess right now. We are having a problem with a donor who wants to dictate what the museum exhibits. It’s not something I can go into too much detail about, but basically, the Office of Development (the fundraising wing) of the university’s administration wants this donor’s money and is trying to force the museum to cave to the pressure he is putting on us. If they force us to yield, we will not only alienate a large section of our student and alumni population, but we will most assuredly lose the other curator at the museum. Also, the museum will have to face a public relations nightmare that Development won’t have to deal with immediately. However, in the long run, it will be a disaster for fundraising efforts to the group of students and alumni they will piss off by doing this.

There are numerous reasons why we have to do our best to stop them from forcing us to change the current exhibit. One of those reasons is the main reason we did this exhibit: public health concerns. We needed an exhibition that would allow the gallery to be a more open space. We needed to have an exhibit where people would continue to social distance. If we cram more into this gallery like this donor wants us to do, the gallery will become a public health hazard. This will be even more of an issue at homecoming when we have many more people on campus and the museum sees heavy traffic during this time. The nation, and the northeast included, is already seeing cities begin to reinstitute mask mandates because the variants of COVID are spreading even to the vaccinated. While the vaccinated don’t seem to be dying from the variants, I don’t think the university wants to be seen as a hotbed of an outbreak because we had people crammed into an enclosed area during homecoming.

I am not directly involved in this as my director and the other curator did not include me in most of the planning or execution of our current exhibit. Usually, I am much more involved, and I write many of the interpretive labels. This exhibit, however, did not need interpretive labels, so I wasn’t very involved. However, once the exhibit is up, that’s when I get involved in creating innovative and engaging programs highlighting the exhibit. I have been working on several programs that I do not know what will happen to if they make the changes to the exhibit they are discussing. My plans for public programs for the museum will fall apart if changes are made.

I’ll be honest, our current exhibit is not my cup of tea. I would have never organized this exhibit, but now that it is installed, we can’t just take it down when we have had an opening reception for it, and all of the publicity for the exhibit says it is scheduled to run through December. Also, as I said before, if they force us to make changes, our other curator will quit. If that happens, who do you think will have to help take up the slack: yours truly. My director and I will be forced to try to retool the exhibit to this donor’s liking without the expertise to do it. Neither of us is an exhibit planner, which takes a unique skill set.

We have a meeting tomorrow morning with the powers that be to discuss these issues. While I am not the main person this will affect, it will most certainly make my job more difficult. We will only have a matter of a few short weeks to make the somewhat drastic changes they are requesting, something that usually takes months of planning, preparation, and execution. The higher-ups are not looking at the long-term picture. They are only looking at a few immediate things, and they are not considering the number of donations they will lose because of this fiasco one donor is causing.

To be prepared for tomorrow’s meeting, I have made a list of eight essential points that I want to bring up. I am not a particularly forceful person, but when attacked, I can bite back. I feel like I have to be assertive but rational in this situation. My director is a very weak leader, and he is a nice guy but not a great director. He has already given up as being defeated in this battle, and I am not sure how much he will muster to fight for the museum. If ever there was a time, this is it. If he caves to the pressure, we will always have to cave to their demands from here on out. I also know that our other curator is going to be emotional and irrational. She will not be able to argue effectively. She has faced some personal tragedies and is a bit unstable at the moment. I honestly believe that if they listen to me, as they say they are coming down to do, then I can rationally layout why dictating changes to this exhibit will be a major mistake and have dire consequences in the future, not only for the museum but for the university as a whole.

While I may sound like I am being dramatic, I am not exaggerating the issues a decision like this from the administration will cause. It will affect our chances of accreditation. It will affect donor and alumni relations, not only for the museum but for the university. There will be a backlash from a small but very vocal group of alumni and friends of the museum. The university is not prepared for that backlash. They may even immediately lose some promised funding they desperately need. The one thing I don’t want to do is sound like I am threatening the administration. I will not be the one causing the external issues that will arise, but I know these museum supporters, and they will not let go of this. They will cause a massive amount of embarrassment to the university.

When I learned about all of this on Monday, I made up my mind to apply for a job in Chicago, which I did yesterday morning. It is a job for which I am highly qualified without being overqualified. The last time I felt this way about a job I applied for was the job that moved me to Vermont. I believe I am their perfect candidate, and my resume apparently drew their interest because they emailed me yesterday afternoon to set up a phone interview.

If the administration forces the changes they want to make onto us, the museum will cease to be the same place I have worked at for the past six years. There are other changes that they want to make which will not be good for the museum. I honestly love my job, and I love many of the people I work with. Since they created my current position and hired me for it, I have felt like I found my calling. I love the flexibility I have had working for my current director, as he understands my health issues. I have established a life in Vermont, and I honestly don’t want that to change. A few minor improvements wouldn’t hurt, but overall, I am where I want to be and doing what I love to do. I am praying that they won’t ruin any of this.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “Work Problems

  • Steve Davis

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with such a funding and administrative nightmare! It’s unfathomable that so many are willing to set aside public health concerns and previous commitments in order to satisfy the whims of significant donors. I hope you will have opportunity to voice your concerns. You’ve lined out many problematic issues that I hope will be considered by your other museum partners. Given the rise in Covid cases across the country, I hope administrations will do their job in protecting the general public, putting the well-being of all above the egos of a few.

    I will be thinking of you and hoping for the best results.

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