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Heidi S. Raatz, Minneapolis Institute of Arts presentation at VRA 28 Atlanta.
2010 Atlanta – Session 2: Staying Alive – Strategies for Dealing with Change & Increasing Professional Viability
[ppt slide – session title]
A little over a year ago, as a result of the worsening global economic crisis, museums nationwide—actually worldwide—began announcing grim news.
[ppt slide – layoff headlines]
[ppt slide – timeline ]
At Minneapolis Institute of Arts we had all been called upon to creatively think about revenue streams, check budgets, reduce projected expenditures, anything to help. Still, it was not enough. On Wednesday March 4, 2009 an urgent all-staff e-mail called everyone to a 4:30pm meeting in the auditorium.
[ppt slide – layoff news, MIA]
19 of our colleagues lost their jobs that day. Additional staff were laid off the following week. Morale plummeted. Our new director Kaywin Feldman called it, “…the worst day of my professional career.”
Job change can be stressful in the best of times. Instant, unexpected, out of left field job change? Well…it can leave you feeling a bit like this.
[ppt slide – wipeout]
But the title of this session is “Staying Alive”, so let’s shift our focus. I’d like to suggest that—once past the shock—these rapid changes are also opportunities for us to help reshape what our visual resources profession will mean in the future.
[ppt slide – embrace it]
Embrace the change. Initially such change seems terrifying and daunting. Do what you can to view the changes to your situation as an opportunity rather than a loss. Define what it is that you bring to this change to make it work best for you and for your employer. If you have not yet been called upon to do so, now is certainly the time to begin thinking more in terms of your skills as information and collection managers and less about the particulars of our "traditional" visual resources job responsibilities. It could also be the time to evaluate the collections you have so carefully nurtured and curated over the years, thinking in terms of the specialized, unique content contained within and how best to showcase, preserve and share these materials.
My advice is that it is absolutely essential for visual resources professionals to involve themselves in every opportunity that comes their way to collaborate interdepartmentally -- and if none come your way then seek them out! There is danger in being seen purely as a specialized service or resource for one thing. You also need to communicate and share your expertise on projects and initiatives that serve an institution-wide function, particularly if this function is directly tied to the mission or strategic plan of your institution. It's about YOU and the skills, expertise and training you have that applies to various projects and initiatives.
[ppt slide – Define It]
Define the change. Job change for me at MIA meant being assigned responsibility for the museum’s rights and permissions workflow in addition to continuing duties for managing the museum’s collection of digital assets. Permissions, formerly a half-time permanent position, was one of the jobs lost in museum layoffs. Administrative changes also resulted in my joining a new department, Photo Services, moving office space, and reporting to a new supervisor. Luckily in my case I had worked with my new boss, the museum’s chief photographer Dan Dennehy, as part of our Digital Assets Management team. One of the first things Dan did as my new supervisor was to meet with me to discuss my new role, responsibilities and the department I would be joining. We also met with Dan’s supervisor, the Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, to further define how the department – not just me alone – would tackle our new permissions responsibilities and how our work addressed the museum’s mission and specific goals of the strategic plan.