Archive for the ‘Volunteers’ Category

Service of Volunteers II

Thursday, October 28th, 2021

What is it about museums? The last time I wrote about volunteers was in 2012 and oddly, it also involved a museum’s shabby treatment of its volunteers. Then the Brooklyn Museum suddenly disbanded its 64 year old Community Committee formed to raise the museum’s profile, start a docent program, give presentations in low-income schools with items from the collection, and plan events. The committee was kicked to the curb.

This time it’s the Art Institute of Chicago that dismissed its 82 docents ending the program in a letter. The goal of the new program, wrote Robin Pogrebin in her New York Times article, is to “forge closer ties with the racially and economically diverse city it serves.”

She reported “The docents — longtime, dedicated volunteers who know the Institute and its collections intimately — lamented the decision.” The Chicago Tribune “denounced the move in an editorial headlined ‘Shame on the Art Institute for summarily canning its volunteer docents.’”

Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay  

The editorial “described the dismissal of the docents as ‘a callous move in a cruel time in America’ and called on Mr. Rondeau to ‘apologize and find some kind of compromise that does not involve the spectacle of long-serving devotees of a great museum left to feel like they’ve been put out with the gift-store trash.’” James Rondeau is the museum director.

According to Pogrebin “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.” Veronica Stein is “the executive director of learning and public engagement for the museum’s Woman’s Board, which supports education activities.”

Pogrebin reported: “The docents at institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are all volunteers. ‘For many years we have worked concertedly to attract a diverse corps of docents,’ said Gary Tinterow, the Houston museum’s director, ‘and we look forward to continued diversification of staff and volunteers.’”

I come from a long line of volunteers–Two grandmothers, mother and father, uncles and aunts rolled up many a sleeve for decades–and my sister continues to do so. I’ve done my share and can speak only for myself: It seems so easy to disrespect and discount volunteers and cut off their contributions in a trice like unwanted suckers on a tree trunk–so why not do it? Are volunteers treated with disrespect because they are not salaried? Is it because many are retired and therefore old and not in sync with what an organization wants its image to be? Are museums alone or is this behavior typical of all organizations that use volunteers?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay  

Service of Volunteers

Monday, April 16th, 2012


The old saying “never volunteer,” takes on a new meaning since last week when I read about The Brooklyn Museum and how it treated its now defunct Brooklyn Museum Community Committee: It tossed out the 64 year old group like last week’s garbage, half promising to dedicate to it yet another wall plaque.

In “Ousted Museum Group Angry Over Breakup,” in The Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Maloney described the committee’s beginnings in 1948: “The group, tasked with raising the museum’s profile, started a docent program, gave presentations in low-income schools with items from the collection, and planned events.”

Until December, its office was in the museum but it paid all its expenses, such as a part-time secretary, from the money it raised. At one point the committee produced the yearly fundraising gala which was taken over by professionals about a dozen years ago. One committee member had served 50+ years. Quoting the museum’s director, Arnold Lehman, Maloney wrote: “‘The world of fundraising has become much more complicated, much more sophisticated and much more competitive over the past couple of decades.'”

She continued: “Indeed, in order to compete for public and private dollars, nonprofit institutions must have trained professionals on staff to coordinate fundraising, said Marian Stern, adjunct assistant professor at New York’s University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

award2“Even as the Community Committee’s role shifted, its relationship with the museum’s successive administrations was positive, members said. When it no longer had a gala to organize, the committee created an annual award to honor women in the arts. The museum administration and curatorial staff became increasingly involved, committee members said.

“But last year, committee members said, the relationship soured. In the fall, without explanation, they said, the museum began intercepting their mail, sending it instead to the development office.”

wallplaqueThe article ends: “Ms. Williams, the museum’s spokeswoman, said a plaque in the museum lobby lists the Community Committee among major donors. The possibility of another plaque or marker to honor the group is under discussion, she said.”

I was gratified to read that some of the ex committee members have removed the museum from their wills and that one is giving her print collection to the Jewish Museum. I congratulate Jennifer Maloney for writing the story and The Wall Street Journal for covering it. I hope that readers of the paper’s “Greater New York” section who currently support the museum [or plan to], either write the director or follow the lead of the disgruntled committee members making clear the reason.

I belong to an organization that grosses about $1 million for its major fundraising lunch, run by a fulltime volunteer, supported by other volunteers–all women. They are professional at what they do but not one makes a living fundraising.

I can’t think of a good reason for the Museum to have disbanded its committee of 35 to 40 people. Some conjectures:

The museum….

**Didn’t want an image associated with old people in favor of hip, wealthy up-and-comers  

**Fired its PR and/or community relations department and then made this decision

**Needed the office space used by the committee for another activity

**Forgot it was in Brooklyn and that a contingent of longtime borough supporters speaks well of it

**Knows that neither its professional development nor administrative staff will get old and seemingly useless

**Fired the person who coordinated fundraising efforts with volunteers

**Lacked the imagination to put these loyal, enthusiastic promoters to work

What do you speculate the institution had in mind?


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