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Subject: Salaries


From: Douglas Sanders <dsanders>
Date: Thursday, April 24, 2003
I would like to share my comments and experiences, related to the
discussion of conservation salaries and career development.  I have
been a professional conservator for seven years.

I sympathize with the original, anonymous contributor to this thread
in his/her lament of salaries for beginning conservators.  The
amounts being offered by coastal institutions are generally low and
not "in touch" with costs of living in their respective cities.  A
starting conservator is often left with the impression that one
should feel privileged to work in such a respectable institution and
that should somehow count towards salary and paying the rent.
However, I do also feel that there is a great deal of false
expectation carried by those recently graduated.  Firstly, though we
possess Master's degrees, we should not see our salaries equivalent
to all other Master degree holders.  A MBA graduate generates
profit--large amounts compared to what a conservator actually brings
in to contribute to the bottom line at a museum or university--and
they are rewarded accordingly.  Secondly, one mustn't expect to earn
a senior's salary fresh out of college.  As with many careers and in
life, it takes a while pay off debt, buy a house and establish
oneself financially, until then one must scrimp and save.  These are
basic truths that really don't even need to be stated.

There is a wealth of opportunity in the US in the Midwest, South and
Southwest if the young conservator is willing to 'humble'
him/herself. Great, prestigious collections exist everywhere.  Aside
from that, there are libraries, archives, universities, and private
collectors in dire need of conservation treatments.  Believe it or
not, these often-overlooked institutions also have $$.  We must be
honest with ourselves and realize, ultimately, conserving Civil War
discharge papers can be just as challenging (maybe even more so)
than removing hinges from a Durer woodcut of 1505. It's all how you
approach it. Making a distinction between the two as one somehow
being more "worthy" of our talents than the other goes against
conservation ethics and is full of nothing but vanity. This vanity
may be instilled in graduate programs themselves.  This is another
topic however.

Niccolo Caldararo (Conservation DistList Instance: 16:63 Wednesday,
April 23, 2003) makes a valid point that one needn't start at the
top.  In my own experience, I took a conservation technician
position at a regional conservation center one year out of grad.
school after having spent my first year splitting time between a
private studio and a research lab.  My employers were candid with me
about the position and as it would appear on paper, my
over-qualifications, but I took it as it was a permanent position
and I realized I still had a lot to learn. In a year's time, my job
title was changed to Assistant Conservator, and I was working my way
up. I agree that technician positions often are more job-secure,
especially compared to endless temporary internships which
freshly-graduated conservators take.

Internships are great for the sponsoring institutions, but I am
beginning to feel more and more that they offer little for the
starting conservator in return.  Generally one "eternally builds
resumes" for 3 or 4 years, until one is eventually told at
interviews that they have too much experience.  A shortage of
permanent jobs exists, the young conservator is full of ego after
having worked at big-city coastal institutions, thinks employment in
Kansas is beneath him/her and is stuck.  The internship-sponsoring
institutions meanwhile have a fresh crop of young, eager grads more
than willing to work cheaply for them and the process starts again.
I will even say (by comparing the experiences of my peers) that
large museum internships in the end often give the conservator less
experience working with objects than one can get by being a
technician in a lab or working at a private studio--I'm willing to
stand by this comment.

I appreciate Jack Thompson's frankness in bringing up the truth
about training, the skills we have, and when they are used
(Conservation DistList Instance: 16:55 Friday, March 28, 2003).
Generating PhD's in conservation is not the answer.  We already
have, in some aspects, too many MA's. Jack's comments about
Associates degrees, etc. seem to me to have some truth to them.

Douglas Sanders
Indiana Historical Society

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:64
                  Distributed: Friday, April 25, 2003
                       Message Id: cdl-16-64-001
Received on Thursday, 24 April, 2003

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