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2019 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Wikipedia.

Arts Professionals Implore Museums to Retain Education Workers

As museums and galleries across the globe downsize their workforces as they attempt to outlast the coronavirus pandemic, among the first staffers to lose their jobs are freelancers, including education workers, who typically work on an as-needed basis. In solidarity with the individuals who are responsible for planning tours, developing public programming, and engaging with visitors, nearly 1,280 artists, curators, writers, educators, and administrators have signed an open letter denouncing the treatment of education workers and other essential staffers whose jobs are currently at risk.

“We the undersigned write with grave concern about a growing trend of layoffs targeting education staff at major global museums in the name of Covid-19,” the letter reads. “As those most in touch with communities outside of the museum, educators push criticality and innovation. Their work is regularly used to attract donors and supporters to many institutions. That they are first in the line of fire for layoffs, is disconcerting, to say the least.”

While many museums are prioritizing retaining their full-time employees as their doors remain shut and their galleries empty, education workers—who are usually hired for short-term assignments such as for the length of an exhibition or program—are vulnerable. Working on a contractual basis allows educators greater flexibility, especially since many often work for more than one institution, but in a time of crisis they are not guaranteed job security and are usually excluded from benefits.

The document cites job cuts at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; the Serralves Foundation; and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York—which recently let go of its entire education staff, informing them that “it will be months, if not years,” before the institution will require their services—and urges these institutions to consider the significance of education workers and their contributions and to speak out on their behalf.

Signed by educators and arts professionals based in Brazil, Denmark, Germany, London, Norway, Portugal, Taiwan, and the United States, among other countries, the letter continues: “Sadly, the reported layoffs follow years of precarity for museum and gallery educators and other cultural workers, who are rendered dispensable in times of economic or social uncertainty. While our letter is focused on the situation of educators, we stand with cleaners, porters, visitor service staff and other low paid and precarious workers in museums and galleries and call on their employers to reverse these layoffs and to offer fairly paid, secure and protected contracts for all cultural workers.”

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