Museums and the Creative Industries

At the end of June DCMS published a report Creative Industries: Focus on Employment which, as you can guess from the title, looks at employment in the creative industries in the UK. One of the sectors included in the analysis is ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’ and the report has been picked up by the Museums Association in two news stories (here and here) which both focus on the depressing decline in numbers of BAME employees in museums. While this is obviously a very real concern, especially with the MA making workforce diversity a key theme of this year’s conference, I wanted to consider some of the other implications of the report.

The report defines creative industries as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”. Do museums really fit into this category? There are certainly aspects of museum work which are highly creative by this definition, but there are many necessary roles within museums which do not fit the bill – more of this later. There are only two distinct creative occupations defined with the category ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’: 1. Librarians, and  2. Archivist and curators. This is compared with five separate creative occupations in ‘Advertising and marketing’ for example. The breadth of museum work is reduced to one creative role ‘curator’ which is notoriously hard to define and often different in every organisation. So it’s nice that museums are being included in this bright new creative economy, but the real disparity between museums and the other sectors included is evident in the report’s statistics.  It is noted for instance that museums have a lower ‘creative intensity’ than other creative occupations, and a footnote reveals that this is due to the amount of people employed in ‘facilities management’ in museums, galleries and libraries.

All of the statistics from the report can be found here, and the breakdowns for museums make for interesting reading. The first, and perhaps most worrying statistic is that the number of people employed in the museum, galleries and libraries sector in the UK has decreased by 7.2% in the last 4 years. In some regions this is even more dramatic: In England 10.2%, in London 17%, in the North East a shocking 57.2% (although it is hard to see how this number was arrived at as only one average figure for employment between 2011 and 2014 is given).

The figures which have grabbed the headlines in the museum press are those which break down employment by ethnicity. While across the UK there is a decrease of 7.2%, for BAME employees there was a decrease of 11%. This is a worrying trend when museums are waking up to the fact that in order to better serve their communities their workforce needs to reflect the whole community.

In terms of gender women continue to make up two thirds of the museum workforce, although museum jobs held by men increased by 15%, and by women decreased by 17% over the period. This could perhaps be accounted for the the growth of IT roles in museums, since according to the report, 80% of jobs in ‘IT, software and computer services’ across the creative industries are  held by men. It is also interesting to note that of the all the creative occupations in the report the group with the highest proportion of jobs filled by women was ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’, at 65.1%.

The most intriguing part of the report for me was the section breaking down creative employment by ‘socio-economic classification’. At first glance I assumed this meant socio-economic background, and was surprised to see that  ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’ had seen an increase in employees from ‘less-advantaged groups’ and a decrease in those from ‘more-advantaged groups’. In fact these classifications are based on a person’s current occupation, not their background. It is not the case that there are now more people from underprivileged backgrounds working in museums, but rather that there are more people currently working in museum occupations which fall into the category of ‘less-advantaged groups’. These groups are based on job roles and include include things like ‘routine sales and service occupations’ and ‘semi-routine technical operations’ which can be seen to cover what a lot of front and back of house museum staff do. In other words not only are there fewer museum jobs overall, but there has been an increase in jobs considered ‘less-advantaged’ and a decrease in jobs considered ‘more-advantaged’.

At the same time there has been a significant decrease in the number of people employed in ‘Museums, galleries and libraries’ whose highest qualification is ‘A level or equivalent’ (26% decrease) or ‘GCSE or equivalent’ (23.7% decrease). This may be another indication that museums are failing to provide opportunities for those from outside the traditional museum workforce, in this case those who are not from an academic background.

All in all this report was a pretty depressing read. But rather that being downhearted I think its important that people in the sector recognise the facts of the report and keep working harder to improve things. The problems of lack or diversity in the museum workforce and lack of opportunity are not going to go away if we turn a blind eye to them.