Museum workers, identity politics and class

The Mellon Foundation recently released its 2022 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey. He is plagued by issues of race and gender, the obsession of the upper middle class.

The Mellon is the 28th richest charitable foundation in the world, with an endowment of $6.2 billion. Its ultimate source lies in the wealth accumulated by banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon (1855-1937), one of America’s robber barons and Secretary of the Treasury at the time of the Wall Street crash of 1929. Like others of his type, the foundation, in the final analysis, pursues issues and funds projects aligned with the interests of the American corporate establishment.

Current Mellon President Elizabeth Alexander, in her foreword to the inquiry, says that given “their unique role in our society, art museums must reflect the demographics of our richly diverse country.”

Alexander takes it for granted and assumes his readers will too that “demographics” simply refers to race and gender. In fact, the vast majority of the American population depends on a salary and therefore belongs to the working class.

‘Intellectual Leadership Positions’ since 2015, POC and white (Mellon Foundation)

In addition, tens of thousands of these workers are employed by museums and other cultural institutions.

Museum workers have had a nightmarish few years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The loss of jobs and income has been enormous. Many have left the profession. Those who remain face high levels of financial and psychological insecurity, as institutions everywhere attempt to shift the burden of their economic hardship onto the backs of workers as much as possible. On top of everything else, inflation is now eating away at wages.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment at “museums, historic sites, and similar institutions” stood at 174,300 in December 2019.

The conditions produced by the pandemic, above all the temporary closure of many institutions, led to a sharp drop in this figure, to 125,600 in April 2020 (compared to 172,200 the previous month) and to 121,300 in July of the same year. Since the peak of the previous December, the July 2020 figures represented a loss of 53,000 jobs, or 30% of the workforce. In November 2022, the BLS calculates that employment has rebounded to 164,600 (equivalent to 2017 levels), still down 6% from three years earlier, or 9,700 jobs.

In March 2021, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released its findings on “the impact of COVID-19 on people in the museum field”. The AAM estimated that 43% of museum workers as a whole saw their earnings decline by an average of 31% over the course of 2020, or $21,191 per worker. Some 13% lived paycheck to paycheck.

More than 60% of part-time staff, already living at the poverty line, testified “to having lost income due to the pandemic, with a median of $8,000 lost due to a reduction in salary, benefits or hours for a median reduction of 50%. ” Independent contractors have also been hit hard – 78% of people in this category lost income in 2020, according to the AAM study, “at a median of $25,000, the equivalent of about 50% of income in ‘before the pandemic’.

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