Museum officials decided that one area in need of an overhaul was its 60-year-old program of volunteer educators, known as docents, who greet school groups and lead tours.
So last month the board overseeing the program sent a letter to the museum’s 82 active docents — most of whom were white older women — informing the volunteers that their program was being ended. The letter said that the museum would phase in a new model relying on paid educators and volunteers “in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility to participate.”
The new plan calls for hiring paid educators — Ms. Stein invited the volunteers to apply for those positions — and then developing a new program over the next few years. In 2023, she wrote, “unpaid volunteer educators will be reintroduced via a redesigned model” that includes updated protocols for “recruitment, application, training, and assessment.” She offered the departing docents museum memberships.
A number of museums have been trying to address how to get more people of color into the hiring pipeline, in part by removing financial barriers. Organizations like the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement encourage nonprofit and government organizations “to engage volunteers who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the communities they serve.” And there have been widespread calls for salary reforms, since systems that rely on unpaid volunteers and interns tend to favor those who can afford to work for little to nothing.
And a 2020 article in Slate headlined “Museums Have a Docent Problem” described what it called “the struggle to train a mostly white, unpaid tour guide corps to talk about race.”
(i.e., Karen is fired)
It might sound bizarre for an institutional that is constantly asking for donations to fire a huge volunteer staff, thus giving the appearance of having money to burn. On the other hand, David Mamet is from Chicago, so it makes sense that a Chicago institution would re-enact the famous Alec Baldwin scene from Glengarry Glen Ross in which the real estate salesmen are required to reapply for their jobs. “Put. That. Coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers. … The good news is you’re fired. The bad news is all of you have just one week to regain your jobs. … First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.” (If the parallels are not obvious, see highlighted sections above where docents can re-apply and also where museum memberships (“steak knives”) are offered.)
Here’s the clip, in case you’re wondering about how to resolve any HR issues within our own enterprise …
Remember: “A loser is a loser.”
(I wrote the above post just before Alec Baldwin shot and killed Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust.)