“No matter what your role, you have the power to drive change and influence organizations. Jennifer Brown’s new book, Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change, gives you the tools to do exactly that. Inclusion imparts critical knowledge, cutting-edge data and time-tested strategies that Jennifer and her team have implemented at Fortune 500 companies around the country.
ON A MORE SPECIFIC PLAYING FIELD, THE ART WORLD, GERI THOMAS IS AN EXPERT. HAVING FOUNDED THOMAS & ASSOCIATES NEARLY TWENTY YEARS AGO, GERI HAS THE KNOWLEDGE AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF HAVING WORKED IN MANY MAJOR MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS, ORGANIZED TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS AND DEVELOPED NEW GALLERIES AND MUSEUM WINGS. SHE HAS PLACED HUNDREDS OF ARTS AND CULTURAL PROFESSIONALS IN POSITIONS WITH MUSEUMS, GALLERIES, AUCTION HOUSES AND ARTS ORGANIZATIONS, PROFIT AND NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS AROUND THE WORLD. THE ART WORLD IS VIEWED AS A LIBERAL LANDSCAPE BASED ON MERITOCRACY, WHETHER CREATIVELY OR FROM A BUSINESS POINT OF VIEW.
THE LRFA BLOG LOOKS FORWARD TO SHARING GERI THOMAS’S THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS ON WORKING IN THE ART WORLD.
GERI, WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START YOUR OWN COMPANY AND LEAVE THE MUSEUM WORLD?
I worked at the Bronx Museum of the Arts; the New Museum of Contemporary Art; on a major Islamic exhibition that toured the country; as part of the initial project team for the new national museum in New Zealand, Te Papa; and at the Jewish Museum.
Quite frankly, I was burnt out and looking to increase my compensation. I still consider myself to be a “museum person” and continue to work with museum and other arts clients on organizational and board development. I felt I could service them and myself better by not being an employee.
YOUR COMPANY FOCUSED ON AN AREA OF STAFFING THAT I FIND UNIQUE. ARE THERE OTHER FIRMS THAT SPECIALIZE IN STAFFING MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS? IT WOULD SEEM SO BENEFICIAL BOTH FOR THE POTENTIAL EMPLOYEE AND FOR THE MUSEUM OR NON-PROFIT.
When I started the business, there were few agencies focused specifically on arts & culture and hardly anyone but us who worked not only with museums but also with galleries, auction houses, private collectors and performing arts organizations. We also wanted to engage in all levels of staffing – from administrative and technical staff to managers and directors. Now there are numerous agencies and recruiters, most with no background in the arts, working in the field. In addition, the many online recruitment firms are trying to find ways to tap the growing arts and culture universe. After 18 remarkable years, I’m proud of our accomplishments and our experience and commitment to the field.
THERE HAS BEEN AN EXPLOSION OF ACCUSATION AND WOMEN COMING FORTH IN THE WORK PLACE IN EVERY INDUSTRY TO REVEAL THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT THAT THEY WERE AFRAID TO ADMIT YEARS BEFORE. WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A RECRUITER AND IN THE ART WORLD BEEN IN THIS REGARD?
Arts and cultural organizations are not separate from politics and the current socio-economic environment; rather, we contribute, affect and are affected by the current climate. Through the years, there have been many, mostly young women, in my office who seemed desperate to leave their jobs. Talking with them further revealed that they were being harassed or abused in other ways — denied taking breaks and lunch; under constant scrutiny; subject to abusive language; working for “screamers”, etc. Like many of the women coming forward today, none of them then wanted to say or do anything and feared they would never work in the arts if they did. Hopefully, what is being revealed across all industries today will be instrumental in making a more equitable and positive workplace experience. The current climate again makes the case for organizations to engage in a developed and empathetic Human Resources function. While HR has been about compliance and protecting the organization, we need also to have an enlightened approach to employee engagement, developing and nurturing talent, and protecting employees under the law.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, GERI WILL INFORM US OF HER NEW ACTIVITIES AND PLANS FOR HER FUTURE AND THAT OF THE MUSEUM WORLD.
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