Saturday, March 22, 2014

IP: Learn to love it because it rules your life


As I continue to work on my master's project many people have asked me how I became interested in intellectual property. I thought I'd share the source that originally piqued my interest because it's 10:45pm and I would rather write a blog post then work on my master's project. Obviously 10pm on a Saturday night is the poor decision making hour, regardless of what you are doing.

A few years ago Netflix was a new thing. Somehow or another I stumbled across a movie called "Sita Sings the Blues." Yadda yadda yadda, DVD shows up and I watch the movie and it's good. For whatever reason (boredom and extreme lack of friends/social engagements) I was watching the DVD extras which I never do unless they're bloopers (remedial sense of humor). The creator of the movie, Nina Paley, had some really interesting things to say about the soundtrack for the movie. Copyright law, protection terms, and licensing all played heavily into the use of the songs and  her and influenced decision to license the work for free under a creative commons license.

I won't reproduce everything she said, you can read about it here. I can't really explain why I found the topic so interesting other than it was complicated and thought provoking.

For example (taken from FAQs page):

"Q: Why would corporations hang onto all these old copyrights if they are going to make it so hard to use them?

A: Well, there's a good answer to that. The corporations that hold these copyrights are media companies that also control most of the new media that comes out. Estimates vary, but it's said that 98 percent of all culture is unavailable right now because of copyrights. So the reason they hold the copyrights isn't because they want to get paid, it's because they don't want all the old stuff competing with the media stream that they control now."

While that is certainly one perspective to have, the flip side is copyright enables artists to earn a living as an artist. If artists (singers, painters, dancers/choreographers, etc.) can't realize any economic benefits from their creative output then their ability to earning a living is hindered, and creativity is diminished. It is precisely because artists are afforded protection under copyright law that they can share their work with others without fear of someone ripping them off. 

Now, are big media conglomerates holding copyrights tightly in their big green hulk-like fists? No, probably not. They're monetizing their investments. That would kind of be like saying why wont Apple just give me an iPhone for free because I want it and they want me to want it. Well Johnny, they don't just give you their product for free because that's called business. 

Nina's comment about competing media streams is slightly misinformed. Sound recordings have compulsory licences that allow people to produce copies of published works for private sale (sale to individuals and not as soundtracks) with or without permission from the copyright holder blah blah blah. Do you own research. My point is copyright law is an implicit license for people to USE material, it does not give copyright holders ultimate control over works into oblivion. It sets the terms of use, operative word there is USE. Copyright law is all about striking a balance between the investment of the creator and the interests of the public. Does either side win everything all the time? Nope. That, Johnny, is called a compromise. 

Anyways you can and should watch the movie Sita Sings the Blues, for free here. 

And that's why I think intellectual property law is neat. What can museums learn from this story? I donno. You tell me.

© 2014 Patricia Lord

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fear Mongering: NAGPRA II

Bet that headline caught your attention!

Here's a scary thought; what if museums had to give back all the information they have released regarding Native American culture? You're thinking "But that's impossible! It's already been released, how will I track it down? How will I get all of it? I don't know where it is!"

And that is gossip.

Kidding, but if you get that reference I like you.

Now what if instead of gathering up all those feathers you had to pay Native Americans artists for every instance of infringement perpetrated by museums?

How about if I said that Native Americans may be able to own copyright in their traditional works.

Are you feeling nervous yet?

What if you had to ask a Native artists permission every time you wanted publish an image of an object they created? What if permission had to be granted anytime a third party asked to publish an image of a Native object in your collection?

Feel yourself getting agitated?

What if you had to share any profits you made from selling copies of old sound recordings of Native American singers preforming traditional songs?

What if owning a traditional object does not mean you own the copyrights? What if age is not the sole determining factor in term protection limitation?

What if a Native artist could revoke their copyright transfer decades after the transfer was made?

What if publishing information that actively harms the spiritual, emotional, economic, and cultural health of a Native tribe is not considered 'fair use'?

Scared yet? Well you should be. Why? Because all of these things are actually already laws that govern the use and ownership of intellectual property.

WHAT!?

Yes, that's right. Shockingly, museums have been misapplying intellectual property laws to Native works for almost a century.

Now, since intellectual property law is a complex and beautifully frustrating beast understanding how these laws apply to traditional works created by Native artists is difficult. I could explain it to you but I don't want to. Do your own research.

All I am simply saying is that museums have been either intentionally or unintentionally depriving Native Americans of their intellectual property rights and economic interests for about a century. This is inline with our other efforts of physical property deprivation, and privacy deprivation, and general respect deprivation. Good for us for being consistent in our subjugation of Native peoples.

Now what if I told you there are already articles being drafted that would provide greater protection for indigenous groups internationally?

If you're interested in learning more you'll have to buy the book. Coming this June. (The book is my Master's Project).

So how do you feel about your ability to apply intellectual property law to Native American material?

"I have doubts."

© 2014 Patricia Lord

Friday, January 31, 2014

Seattle Seahawks and Museum Mistakes

 

Trademark? No. The Washington Redskins lost their trademark protection for the Redskins logo. 



Football, the Washington Redskins, and Museums.


These three things all share one common trait. Can you guess what it is? That's right! They all suck.

For a few years now the Oneida Nation, as well as several other Native American organizations and their supporters have been calling for the Washington Redskins to change the name and mascot of their team. I wont get into the details of that specific battle but you can read about it here.

Now, for the purposes of this blog post I am going to assume that you are not a buffoon and that you comprehend why naming your team "The Redskins" is offensive. So we all agree the Redskins name sucks.

Things that suck:

Redskins
Football
Museums

Now, since we've established that we all agree the Washington Redskins are terrible, we need to discuss why American football sucks. Psych, no we don't. We all know football is the most overrated, boring, terrible sport to ever exist.

Let's revisit our list.

Things that suck:

Redskins
Football
Museums

Okay, so why would I, a museum professional, say museums suck? I could list about 100 things off the top of my head, but I only need to list one. This one. For those of you who are too lazy to read, the Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum wagered works of art for the Super Pooper Bowl - the losing museum would have to loan their work to the winner, presumably for the winning city to be able to mock in person. How droll. So what did the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) choose as their little art poker chip? A sacred mask from the Nuxalk Nation? Featuring the same kinds of designs that the Seahawks RIPPED OFF to create their team logo!!!?? And they did so without consulting the tribe first??!! BRILLIANT! Just stupendous. Solid bunch of professionals they have up there in Seattle.

I cannot even fathom why the SAM thought that was a bright idea. Whoever approved it was probably a football fan.

I'll make my point quickly - which I can do because it's pretty simple and kind of one of the most important things to know if you want to work in museums. As museum professionals we care for cultural objects, many are from cultures that are not our own. We have an obligation to ensure that we treat those objects with due respect. I'm still embarking on the horrible, frustrating, disheartening voyage that will be my career in museums but even I, a mere graduate student could have caught that. Its 2014 and there are an overwhelming number of graduate programs for museum studies and we still can't figure out that betting a sacred First Nations object on a football game is a bad idea?

Be proud SAM, you earned this check mark for us all.

Things that suck:

Redskins
Football
Museums

I could go on forever on how blatantly stupid an idea that was but it looks like the Nuxalk Nation put the SAM in its place. This leads me to my second point, and the topic of my graduate thesis big girl paper: Native American intellectual property in museums. Are museums doing enough to acknowledge and protect Native American intellectual property that we hold in museums? Spoiler alert! We aren't! And the SAM boo boo just proves my point even more. I'll be sure to post the paper in full once it's complete for the no one who reads my blog to see. Until then watch this video and visit Change the Mascot.

© 2014 Patricia Lord

Friday, December 20, 2013

Detroit Institute of Arts and the debate over monetizing collections

Photo  Maia C


We've all been hearing about the saga over the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) collection and the fine mess the city of Detroit is struggling to claw its way out of. When I originally chose the DIA as the topic for this blog post I struggled to find something meaningful to say about it. It’s been well covered by the media and most people seem to understand that it sucks that the museum and the people of Detroit might lose the collection. I thought perhaps I might talk a little bit about the debate over monetizing vs. not monetizing the collection and provide some insight for non-museum folks who might not be aware of the pros and cons of the arguments. But then I was like, blah, that’s boring and again, it’s pretty straight forward, and most journalists have touched upon the basics of the topic already in their general discussion of the story. I was about ready to give up and move on to another topic, when all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, the answer came to me as I lay in that mystical space between wake and sleep. So prepare to be astounded with my genius plan to save the DIA and museums everywhere from financial ruin. And no, that’s not a lofty statement – just wait until you read my solution.

First, a brief background:

There is a debate within the museum world whether or not monetizing a collection is good or bad. Most museum professionals say bad, most business-minded people say good. Monetizing the collection essentially means setting a value and listing it as an asset on the statement of financial position (this is what a balance sheet is called when the organization is a nonprofit). Now, museum professionals are uptight about monetizing the collection because, if we are truly abiding by the real intent of our professional code of ethics and the museum’s mission, then collections accessioned (formally added) into the permanent collection are not purchased with the intent to resell. This means they are not acquired as investments but as permanent additions to the collections and the assumption is that they will remain with the museum for the foreseeable future. So essentially from this perspective the collections do not represent assets because there is no intent to sell, ever, and non-cash assets are all about monetary conversion (liquidity). Now, as a side note because this may give people the wrong impression I want to clear some things up. Museums do sell collections objects and they do know their collections are worth money. It’s not like if someone asked how much that da Vinci is worth we’d be like “Oh I donno, money is so passé.” We do insure our collections and that involves appraising the collection as a whole and in certain cases individually, but those figures are used for insurance and other internal purposes only. We do sell collections pieces but only after the piece is considered no longer appropriate for the collection and deaccessioned. Proceeds from those sales are strictly regulated and cannot be used for general operating expenses or to cover debts.

On the other side of the argument are people who say that collections should be monetized because it more accurately represents the worth of the museum and its ability to cover all its debts, it increases the museum’s ability secure loans, and it enables some ROI calculations for collections. You know business type things that museums are mostly bad at.

So now you’re wondering what my opinion is, to monetize or not to monetize. Well I am of the opinion that museums should list their collections on their statements of financial position. Crazy right? I’m a museum professional, have I no ethics? Did all those business classes warp me? Well let me explain, I do think that collections should be listed on the statement of financial position, however, I think they should be listed as liabilities rather than assets. BLAM! Right out of left field – didn't see that coming, did you? I am sure everyone is wondering what I am talking about, since obviously a painting worth $1 million dollars is clearly an asset – I mean it’s worth $1 million. A museum owns it, they sell it and they get $1 million. Asset. Well yes, if you ask any accountant they will clearly label collections as non-cash assets. But if we view collections the way a museum professional would, collections are actually liabilities. Why?

1. Collections are forever

As I previously mentioned, when a museum accessions an object into their permanent collection it is intended to be a part of the collection into perpetuity. This means that the museum is responsible for providing a level of care for that object that protects it from theft, damage, destruction, decay etc. This is considered the duty of the museum, to provide adequate care for object that they hold in the public trust. As you can imagine, this isn't cheap.

YOU: Don’t museums make money by exhibiting their collections?
ME: Yes.
YOU: Isn't it enough to cover the expenses of preserving the collection?
ME: No.

Collections are an obligation, like a loan. Unlike other assets that may cost money to maintain, like buildings, the collections cannot, if we’re being A+ professionals and museums, be sold. So if there is no potential or ability to sell an object for unrestricted financial gain, and the care of that object is a large financial burden that cannot be shirked, then that is a liability, not an asset.

2. Collections are heavy

So, I hope I communicated how expensive collections are for museums to maintain. Logically it follows that the larger and higher value the collection, the more expensive it is to maintain. Now of course not every museum has state of the art, climate controlled, fireproof, and burglar-alarmed storage. However, if the museum owns high value objects then their collections storage space will be commensurate with that value. Well, ideally. So if a museum curates a collection then there is an assumption of ongoing commitment for the adequate care of the collection. Since the care of that collection is proportional to the collection’s overall value and the museum can never convert the collection to unrestricted cash, shouldn't that commitment be accounted for somewhere in the financial records for the institution? Because it’s a pretty big investment. Listing the cost of collections on financial reporting documents would give a much better picture of the actual, long-term, financial position of the institution then if collections were completely absent, like they are now. Additionally it would ensure that museums give more thought to the size of their collections in relation to their financial capabilities. Can a museum with an operating budget of $500,000 properly care for a collection of over 2 million objects valued at $45 billion dollars???? No, but you’d be surprised at how many institutions think they can. Museums need a reality check, we cannot curate everything, both literally and financially. Museums need to be more intentional and responsible when accessioning objects because those object represent large, long-term liabilities therefore need to use our resources more wisely. Listing collections as liabilities is a way for museums and the public see the overall health of the organization in very real terms.

3. Collections are museums

Last time I checked, curating collections were a pretty important part of being a museum. So why, if collections are so central to the museum, are they mostly invisible on our financial statements? The cost of maintaining collections gets lumped in with general operating and building expenses even though the ongoing care of collections is one of the biggest reasons museums are granted non-profit status. Furthermore why doesn't the public, in whose name we curate and care for collections, deserve to know how much we are spending to maintain those collections? Nonprofits are required to disclose the highest earning staff members at their institution but not how much they spend on collections care. Really? Zoos, aquariums, etc. list how much they spend on food and healthcare for their living collections so why shouldn't we disclose the cost of keeping our object based collections? I am sure people would care if they saw a museum spent $600 caring for their $82 million dollar collection because that wouldn't really be proper care, would it? The converse is also true; $440,500 on a $7,500 collection might be a bit high. Why shouldn't museums be more transparent about their collections costs? We need to be better accountants for our activities.

So I hope I've made my argument and reasons clear; collections are long-term liabilities and let’s account for them in a way that recognizes their value and our obligation for their care. Now I’m sure that some accountants will be able to cite some specific reasons why this would never work, because accounting has rules and is one of the top 10 most real professions. All I have to say to that is, if the rules don’t allow us to be more transparent, more accurately reflect the role of collections in museums, and give a more accurate view of the financial health of the organization then those rules don’t work. The rules should fit our needs and not the other way around. Perhaps the lack of accounting for collections is one of the reasons why museums are so often struggling to make ends meet.  Museums need a mechanism for accounting for collections that is in alignment with our professional responsibilities and not some jerry-rigged version of a balance sheet.

In conclusion I have solved another one of museums’ biggest challenges. Looks like my MBA did pay off! Oh no wait, I will never be able to pay that student loan off.

© 2013 Patricia Lord

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Complaints; 5 of the most likely gripes you have

I'm almost done ranting, just 5 more points to go!

16. I already do all this. I'm perfect, and everything I do is wonderful.

Well that's great, now encourage others to do the same. Let me clarify; actively encourage. Develop a mentorship program at your institution or in your area. Start a program to fund professional development for emerging professionals, write a crazy ranting blog on the internet for no one to read, gauge interest in starting an apprenticeship program at your institution. And yes, I realize that apprenticeships and internships (if done well) are similar. I am making a conscious choice to use a different word then internship because of everything I just talked about in my last 3 posts. Unlike most internships apprenticeships are a. paid, b. last longer then the typical 3-4 month internship (what can you really learn in 3-4 months?) c. are based on established, formal relationships with programs/schools.

17. I did an unpaid internship so shouldn't everyone else have to?

Bitter much? That's a great attitude for a professional to have. I can tell you work in museums. If your unpaid internship wasn't that great for you and you still hold obvious resentment about it, why would you force others to do the same?

18. I have so much work to do and I need unpaid interns. 

No you don’t. If you can’t afford to pay someone to do work then it shouldn't be done and this needs to be communicated to others. It’s as simple as that. Stop enabling exploitation. Still not convinced? OK, what if your employer decided to stop paying you? Imagine if your boss said this to you; "I know you are a professional and deserve to be paid, but there's still all these projects. Could you just be a champ and come in and finish these?" Oh, that doesn't sound so good does it? You don't get paid but you get professional networking and experience!? What about now? Still don't want to work for free, huh? Networking and professional development don't pay the bills and because the cost of obtaining a degree is now more than most baby boomers paid for their first homes those interns got Bills, the likes of which you do not even know.

19. Isn’t mentoring people for free the same? 

No it's not, but thanks for asking. When you mentor someone you’re providing encouragement, support, and guidance. Those aren't job responsibilities, skills, or tasks. And re-framing internships as experiences and exposure isn't a counterpoint, it’s a deflection. It is every older generation’s responsibility to teach the younger generation the ropes. This seems to have been lost somewhere in the past few decades. It should be a privilege and a joy to learn from our elders, not a burden or a gauntlet run. And before you even think it, YES I do plan on mentoring other professionals as my career progresses. Because, as someone recently said to me in an unrelated conversation; "It's my dream to be part of the solution."

20. I want the experience; I’m okay working for free. 

That’s super, however understand that you are not operating in a vacuum, you’re upping the ante when you do this. Think of your role in the larger system of professionals and the field. Still don't get it? OK, how long are you willing to work for free? 3 months? 7 months? A year? Forever? The longer you are willing to work for free, the longer you will work for free. Why? Because if I know Johnny will work for free for...basically forever, then I can hire Jane, keep Johnny as an unpaid intern and get two employees for the price of one. I know you're thinking that no institution would do that, surely they will see your dedication and offer you a job and if they don't you'll just split after a few months. Well if they can get 3 months of work for free out of out of you before you give up, why shouldn't they just start paying you at the 3 month mark? Saves them some cash and you're happy because you got a job. However what you don't realize is you could have and should have been paid for those 3 months....so what you did was accept a significantly lower salary for a position by throwing in 3 free months of work? What's next, do you have to buy your own computer to go to work? Pay your own healthcare? Pay your own pension. OH WAIT. THOSE ARE ALL THINGS COMPANIES ARE MAKING PEOPLE DO NOW. You see what unpaid internships did to us???!!

So that concludes my 20 points on unpaid internships. I'm done now, I swear. 


WAIT, BONUS GRIPE! I'm throwing in one more gripe because you've been such a good customer.


21. Aren't we just adapting to the new marketplace? 

Yes, we are adapting ourselves right into a hole. There is nothing special about an internship, no training, experience, or networking opportunity that couldn't be accomplished in any entry level job. Sure, let's continue down the road of unpaid internships; "It's just what you have to do these days to be the most qualified candidate. Everything gets harder as time goes on. Once, a long time ago you only needed a high school degree and you were set, then college came along and now having a B.A. is a requirement for almost every professional job. Internships are just part of the process that we have to go through to be professionals these days, it's like the Flynn effect for jobs." OK first re-read all my previous posts. Then do some more reading (by the way, these people all stole my idea....kidding! No, I'm not though). My whole point is this situation is unsustainable so just do something or whatever.

© 2013 Patricia Lord

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to create better museum professionals and organizations in just 5 easy steps.


That title is a little misleading, nothing in museums is ever easy nor is it ever resolved in just five steps. If you think about it the title of this week's post is an outright fallacy. I'm kidding, of course. Now on to my five simple steps.

11. Pay people. 

Sounds simple enough, people deserve to be paid for their work but if it were that easy there would likely be no such a thing as an unpaid internship. Now I understand that not every institution can afford to pay all their interns, and that completely eliminating an entire internship program would also be a mistake. As I discussed in my previous post the amount of resources that an unpaid intern has to contribute in order to work for free is just ridiculous. So while the system as a whole finds better ways to provide experience for young professionals your institution can make some small changes to help offset the resource commitments unpaid interns make. At the absolute very least provide your unpaid interns with robust benefits or other compensation for their work. If any funds can be secured to cover transportation costs it would be a step in the right direction. Consider using your professional development or discretionary funds to purchase them a membership to a professional organization for a year. Again I realize funding is a perpetual issue but $70 for a membership can really impact an emerging professional's career. And not to put to fine a point on it, but if your institution cannot find a few hundred dollars for some intern appreciation then you have much larger problems and you should refocus your work to fundraising for your museum not mentoring interns until such a time when you can find a source of funding for your internship program.

12. Remove internships a requirement for degree. 

Students should not have to do unpaid work, independent from their educational institution, in order to graduate. Now I know this flies in the face of the entire purpose of the museum studies degree. Degree programs were developed because few professionals had the practical, hands on experience, needed to work in museums. Internships are a large component of gaining the practical skills but unless you have a museum at your institution or a formal agreement with another institution, cut the requirement from your program. It isn't a good idea to rely on institutions that have no formal agreement to accept your interns so that they can graduate. Why not channel all that unused internship energy into helping graduates find jobs? Crazy thought, I know.

13. Look beyond your interns when hiring. 

Rewarding interns with a job later on may absolve some of your guilt for having exploited them for so long but the fact that this is the view we have of unpaid interns reveals how damaged our internship programs are. If we truly want to break our addiction to the unpaid intern we have to start making hard choices. No one wants to slight an intern, especially one that would be an employee if there were funding to hire them but increasing diversity in the workforce, including diversity in educational and experiential backgrounds, is good for the field, good for organizations, and it's good for interns. Too often museums choose the easy candidate, the intern that knows the ropes already. The problem with this attitude is an intern that has learned the ropes at one museum only knows those ropes. They're indoctrinated into the culture of your institution, for better or worse. How are museums supposed to be innovative, diverse organizations if we only hire internally? Investing in employees is important but hiring from outside the organizational box is equally important if you expect to be an adaptive organization. Make it clear that volunteering or interning is not a road to a job. Part of breaking the intern/volunteer circuit is looking to pro bono recruiters, like Taproot Foundation, to find project support. The arms-length distance that third-party organizations provide removes the temptation to hire any warm body that volunteers with your organization because they deserve a job after working for free for so long.

14. Mentor people. 

Perhaps I am just imagining a more idealistic past but for some reason I can't help but think that mentorships are a long lost art form. Somewhere along the line professionals stopped thinking training your replacement was an important aspect of your own career. I don't mean train your replacement to file paperwork the way you like it, I mean take over as the next generation of professionals. If you love your career, and believe in museums, and stop to think more than a week in advance you must realize that at some point you will no longer be in the field. If you care about what happens beyond your own personal career it is your responsibility to train younger professionals to become leaders. Use your own free time to contribute to the system without the expectation of reward like a job or money, or a foot in the door. Give your colleagues and future replacements what they were actually looking for; a mentor, not an internship. Why? Because it is how you ensure continued vitality of your profession, and it’s your responsibility anyway.

15. Stop working for free. You’re enabling abuse and worth more than that. 

Obviously this last step is for interns. Look, I know that finding a job is hard and it's so tempting to offer to work for free just so you can get your foot in the door. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of good reasons to intern or volunteer with an organization but using an internship as a path to a job is not sustainable. You can't intern at every organization where you hope to get a job. You might not think that your one unpaid internship isn't that bad but you have to realize that you are part of a system and collectively, unpaid internships are leading the profession, and your career no where good. You are a professional, a person who had committed time, money, and resources in order to get a job in a museum. Your investment deserves recognition. You volunteer with and organization because you believe in the mission, you complete an internship for the experience. Any other motives for completing an internship or volunteering are disingenuous and cheapen the profession. If you want to increase your chances of getting a job work on your skill sets and other professional development, not logging more volunteer hours.

© 2013 Patricia Lord

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five more points on unpaid internships at museums.

When we left off last week we were discussing why unpaid internships are the meth of the museum world. 

Its all well and fine to sit on my high horse and publish insane ramblings about things and then disappear into the depths of the interwebs, however, because I am solutions-oriented I have a quick guide to breaking your addiction. I feel very strongly about this topic and I want museums to develop meaningful solutions to their problems so before we actually discuss positive ways to redirect our unpaid internship lust, I'd like to go over some common addiction breaking pitfalls.

How NOT to stop the addiction to unpaid internships, 5 common mistakes.

6. Replacement or conversion into volunteer programs or short-term contract work.

This seems like such an obvious, easy, and painless way to solve our problems. Excellent, issue resolved! It was crazy museums were even addicted in the first place when the solution was so simple. Well not exactly. As any former addict will tell you the temptation to replace one addiction with another is the lazy man's way to avoid pain. "Cigarettes are terrible for your lungs, I'll just chew tobacco instead! Addiction defeated!" Obviously this replacement strategy resolved nothing and the addiction remains, disguised as something else with an entirely different set of concerns. So when we look to break our addiction to unpaid interns, let's not just funnel them into our volunteer program. A rose by any other name is still a rose except now our interns have lost out on the value of a structured internship. A good internship is focused professional development and specific skill building work under the direction of mentors. Volunteers are not provided with the same kind of resources that an intern should be. Contract work, the prostitution circuit of the professional world, is no better and comes with its own set of issues like team cohesion and organizational loyalty.   


7. Absolute refusal of all internship opportunities, paid or unpaid.

Cold turkey! The only way to go if you truly want to beat your addiction. This method might break the cycle but where does it leave pre-professionals? Internships can be extremely valuable and cutting off the only means most pre-pofessionals have to develop skills and find potential mentors without providing them with an alternate method to grow is too harsh. Let's work on creating more apprenticeships while we simultaneously scale back our unpaid internship programs. If we just shutter our windows and doors there will be a bunch of strung-out pre-professionals wondering around with nothing to do. So in the short-term more care needs to be taken in evaluating who is a good candidate for an internship. Are people applying for an internship in an area where they already have good experience? Then they probably don't need an internship, they're probably professionals that can't get a job. Use your internship resources wisely because a good internship is, and should be, a drain on your resources. 

8. Deflection – funneling to other internship programs only to pursue them later as employees or volunteers.

"Um, you can't get any unpaid internships from me anymore. I quit that, but I heard so and so down the street still has some. Let me know how that goes, I might be looking for someone with some experience later." Gross! You're just going to let everyone else expend their resources training people and then swoop in later and reap what you didn't help sow? Mooch! We're all part of a profession, a system. If you want quality professionals to work at your institution, you have to help develop professionals in your field. It really is everyone's responsibility. Mooching isn't a long-term solution, one day you'll find yourself cut off just when you can least afford it.

9. Deny you have a problem.

I really hope I don't run into any museum professionals that don't think unpaid internships are a problem at all so I'm going to focus on a few specific reasons why some people might not think they're THAT big of a problem.

A lot of internships are required as part of graduate and undergraduate museum studies programs. Many professionals may be tempted then to say "Hey, their school requires it, I'm doing them a favor!" Yes, free access to work for them to do is a favor, a great favor, but let's consider that on top of working for you for free they also have to pay to earn the internship credit. This is just doubly insulting! Now I'm sure school administrators and you are thinking "Those fees go towards the administrative costs associated with processing and maintaining student records." Great point, but let's think about that for a second. A normal credit costs, let's say $600. Those funds support administrative costs as well as pay for a professor to teach the class. Now, an internship credit costs the same amount, but there isn't an internship professor....so why am I paying the same amount? Before you say anything most internships are more than one credit so think students must PAY more than a grand for ONE internship. So why are interns paying so much for an internship credit? The internship adviser of course! Hold on - the amount of work an internship adviser does is far less then that of a professor. This is because, as you know, the internship supervisor takes on a lot of the responsibility for the successful completion of the internship. So, shouldn't the internship supervisor get a cut of some of those credit fees? After all you're doing work, draining your resources, you deserve fair compensation for your contribution! Right? Now imagine the university starts charging you just to have the privilege of hosting interns. What? That's insanity, totally unfair! Yes, and now you know how unpaid interns feel.

"Hold the phone - I thought you said good internships drain your resources. Why do interns need me, on top of draining my non monetary resources, to also pay them ? Then I am expending more resources then I am receiving in return."

This is an excellent question and I'm so glad you asked. It's true when you compare the resources consumed/resources contributed ratio for the kind of quality internships I am advocating for, it is very likely that there will be an imbalance for your institution. The amount of contribution that you get from an intern in terms of work may not match or exceed the resources you expended on an intern in the form of training time, professional development time, etc. If you look at the amount of work that an intern has to do in order complete the internship credit for their school, their resource consumption increases. Interns typically have additional work required of them by their programs as part of their internship, such as papers, phone check ins, portfolios, blog posts, presentations, etc. Plus there's the money they have to shell out for transportation, parking, food, etc. to get to the internship site. When you actually calculate all the resources that an intern has to spend in order to be an intern, it comes out to far more than in justifiable for the opportunity to learn from other professionals. I'm not saying you have to pay them the same as a staff member but some monetary compensation is appropriate, if only to help offset their commitment. I know this is difficult for some institutions, which is why I think participating institutions should receive a portion of credit fees that those greedy universities keep for themselves when you mentor their students for them. And don't feel shy about telling universities who send their internship seekers to your institution this.

Ok, these are all great points but maybe I need to spend a little time explaining why I think unpaid internships are so bad. To start, I'm not talking about one unpaid internship here or there, I'm talking about the whole system. It sounds a little confusing to think of increased experience and greater education as a race to the bottom so I would like to propose that we're engaged in a race to the top. Let me explain. We all agree that learning more is good but when we constantly have to one up each other, be the better candidate, we run the risk of defeating ourselves. "I can do an unpaid internship, I have the funds to work for free for a little while!" "Oh yea? Well I can do TWO unpaid internships, more experience for me! I'll get more network contacts and more skills." "Oh really? Well I can work for free for 7 years. I can get an unpaid internship where ever I want and then I'll walk on to ANY job I want." Ok, this is a little silly but you see my point, at what point are our skyscrapers turning into towers of Babel? Why are we spending half our lives working for free so that we can get paid work? We aren't headed anywhere that is sustainable. Instead of working with each other to improve our system we just started competing with each other. We played right into the hands of those who seek to take advantage of us. 

10. Defer and blame.

This is perhaps the trap that I am most worried about. We all have a lot of projects that need attention and we might think unpaid labor is our only option. If we put off making changes to your internship programs until after you finish that one project we're going to be putting it off for the next century.

Equally bad would be the blame approach "The administration of this museum just doesn't understand what we do. They expect me to finish all these projects but they don't give me any funds to do it. I have no choice." This may all be true and the only real piece of advice I have is maybe you should consider not doing some of those projects. Crazy thought right? Not do a project your administration hasn't planned resource allocation for or budgeted funds for? Who is this lady? If your museum can't allocate resources or funds for a project then a. they're horrible administrators, and b. you really have no obligation to complete that project. Hear me out because I know a lot of you are already turning away. We all think all of our projects are important and we have to do them or we'll be fired but first, let's remember, we work in museums and nothing is life threatening. What I am saying is when we compensate for bad planning on the part of the museum by taking advantage of interns and emerging professionals we are contributing to the problem, NOT saving the day or being a good employee or being a resourceful professional. The more they (bad administrators) see that you accomplish projects without resources or funds, the more likely they will give you more projects and less funds. What you did was engage in a race to the bottom and now you're stuck. Sometimes you have to let projects fail for people to see that poor planning defeats projects.

.....and don't worry, you wont get fired. No one has ever gotten fired from a museum. Note: see my post on why museums should start firing more people, coming soon!

Next time we'll be learning to channel our desires into positive results and finally slay our internship demons.

© 2013 Patricia Lord