Swaps, residencies, and sabbaticals: Part One

I’ve been thinking about skills, staff, and creative ways to address the mismatch that we often wind up with in our museums. You’ve probably seen these situations; the lone developer or educator, doing two or three persons’ jobs because they love it so much, and never getting any opportunity to gain new skills or insights. Or the veteran who did great work but burned out, and is now underutilized in lieu of getting a chance to really recharge. 

This is especially relevant to me at the moment because we are looking to hire a user experience (UX) designer to work with our lone developer on a plethora of projects. PEM, like most other museums trying to hire this kind of talent, is having zero luck thus far. If you know anybody, send them to the job description and encourage them to apply, OK? Thanks! If there was some way we could borrow one of the many talented designers I know for a few weeks, oh, what we might accomplish!

So what to do about these mismatches? They’re wicked problems, but they’re not insoluble and here’s how I know.

Residency programs
I had lunch last week with Kris Wetterlund of Museum-Ed, who is in town as Educator-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. I went over to the Gardner to see their marvelous new addition, and to catch up with Kris and the folks at the Gardner about what they’re working on.


The Gardner's new performance space. It's pretty incredible.
The Gardner’s new performance space. It’s pretty incredible.

I was intrigued by the concept of an educator residency program, and wanted to find to more. They have an active residency program as a sort of homage to their founder, who as a wealthy patron offered residences to artists and musicians. The Museum now not only hosts artists-in-residence, but an educator-in-residence each summer. She’s been writing about it on her blog. You should read it.

The residency is an interesting proposition that seems to pay off for both parties. The Gardner gets to make use of Kris’ many talents and provide some high-quality professional development for their staff. Kris gets to get away from it all, immerse herself in a new environment, and have time to work on her next book.

Staff Exchanges
This reminded me of a program that the Museum of Science had with the Science Museum, London back in the 1990s. That program assigned staff from one museum to a current project at the other museum that lined up roughly with their expertise, for a period of 6-8 weeks.  Salaries continued to be paid by the staff member’s home institution, so the main expenses were airfare and living.  Museum staff were very generous and creative about hosting arrangements, so it was relatively affordable for the traveling staff, and was broadly perceived to be a valuable and rewarding enrichment experience. In fact, I never heard a bad thing about the program from anyone who took part in it, and it went through several rounds before petering out.

In the next post, I’ll share some of thinking I’ve been doing with a group of colleagues for the past year or so on a model for self-organized, peer-directed platform for staff exchanges. Stay tuned!


  1. I love these ideas! Where could a person find out about opportunities for exchanges and residencies? Are they mostly posted on the institutions’ websites, or would it be more word of mouth?


    1. Thanks, Shannon. That’s the topic for the next post, as soon as I finish writing it. How might such a platform work? Where would it live? Who would operate it?


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