Monday, February 14, 2011

Museum Succession Planning / Planning for Museums to Succeed

So you're thinking about retiring after a career in museum work . . .

Congratulations! What a gorgeous amount of service you have given to museums for the past 35 + years. I bet you have had some great accomplishments and opportunities during the course of you career. How much I want to hear about all of them!

I truly hope you never worry that the next generation of museum workers aren't interested in what you have built over the years, and that there is no one ready to receive your baton. I assure you that it's likely there are actually 
more people wanting to work in museums than ever before, both from academia and through museum studies programs. Many people have been eager to join in your conversation way before this time of your retirement, but maybe have not had the chance due to limited hiring and/or just being the wrong place/age to land that permanent job to work alongside you.

And . . . I don't want to make any assumptions here, so please correct me if I'm wrong. I am thinking that although I bet it's exciting to retire, I'd imagine it's hard to get your coat and hat and walk away from what you have been doing for a lifetime. This must be especially true if you have spent most of your career in one institution. I literally can't imagine working at the same place for years and years (although I would like to!). Your job must have seen you through relationships, having and raising kids, buying houses; it must have been with you during all life's adventures, and must equal a big part of who you are. Through this, I know if I were you, I would want to know what will happen to my life's work when I am gone, and get assurance before I leave that it mattered. So I am here to say right now not only will your efforts and accomplishments not be forgotten, but I promise to take up the mantle of the solid foundation of work you laid upon your predecessors'. This is the reason I really want to know all about your experiences.

Here's the thing, though. For me to fully understand the work you have accomplished during your long and varied career, I need you to talk to me. 
A lot. Work with me, have lunch with me, and include me in the discussions and meetings on the projects you are working on now and in the immediate future.  Right now I want to 'pick your brain' not as a job vulture simply eager for you to move along, but as someone who wants to learn from you, really learn. I want to take in your wisdom and experience apply it to my current work, and note it should I ever be as lucky as you to be in the position you are in now.

I am not asking you to step aside, for 
I respect you too much to forget what you have contributed, and how you did so. I am asking that you let me walk with you, as a trusted equal, because I want our museum work to be cumulative, and complementary.  I also believe we are working toward the same goal: for museums to be successful, engaging, relevant institutions that tell the story of the past with respect to the present moment. Let's also work together to plan a fabulous future. Now can I buy you that cup of coffee . . . ?

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