Workshop 1

We would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Museums and Galleries History Group for this workshop

Booking now closed

For full programme click here and abstracts/bios document click here

Museum Work: Hierarchies and Barriers, Exclusion and Inclusion

Draft Programme

Birkbeck, University of London – Keynes Library, 39-47 Gordon Square (School of Arts), Kings Cross, London, WC1H 0PN 


9.30-10.00 Arrival, refreshments and registration 

10.00-10.15 Welcome 

10.15-10.45 Keynote 1 Dr Errol Francis (Artistic Director and CEO, Culture&) 

Towards inclusivity and relevance in UK arts and heritage 

10.45-12.00 Session 1 Creating and contesting professional identities 

Kirsty Kernohan, ‘An excellent guide to her own museum’: intersections of women’s knowledge and racism on a visit to the Royal Victoria Institute, Trinidad, 1897 

Hoyee Tse, Diversification and Diversity: the Employment of Asian Museum Professionals in the UK 

Tamsin Russell, Museum work: a provocation  

Andrea Meyer, Modernizing the Museum – Initiatives and Crises of the German Museums Association (1917-1933) 

12.00-12.30 Keynote 2 Professor Fiona Candlin (Birkbeck) 

DIY Museums: Opportunity and Inequity 

12.30-1.30 Lunch (not provided) 

1.30-2.45 Session 2 Reframing expertise: pay, affiliation and status 

Kathleen Lawther, Motivations, money and management: impacts on collections work 

Mark Liebenrood, Li Yuan-Chia and the LYC Museum – an artist as amateur curator? 

Liliana Milkova, Inclusive Collection Interpretation and the Gallery Guide Program at the Yale University Art Gallery 

Amara Thornton, Museum Lectures in Context: Beyond Notability and the Peripatetic Lecturer 

2.45-3.15 Break, refreshments 

3.15-3.45 Keynote 3 Louise McAward-White, Fair Museum Jobs 

Title to be confirmed 

3.45-5.15 Session 3 Representing the professional: language and image 

Nicky Reeves, Making Museum Work 

Lewis Ryder, The Museum and the Pest: The Contest for Cultural Authority in Early Twentieth-Century British Museums 

Samantha Evans, The Museum of them and us: boundaries, hierarchies, and class- based inequality in UK museum work 

Jennifer Warren, Professionalism and The ‘Progressive’ Art Museum: The Case of MACBA 

5.15-5.30 Final thoughts 

Call for participation

23rd May 2023, at Birkbeck, University of London

The Making Museum Professionals network responds to growing campaigns in the museum sector for fairer recruitment and career structures. Across the world, campaign groups have highlighted the systems of inequality facing many of those working in and with museums. This new network will support such campaigns for fairness, inclusion and transparency, by investigating the historical roots of the museum professions and the structures that supported them, from the birth of the modern museum (c. 1850) to the present day. It asks how museum professions came into being, and how they acted to produce particular competences and ways of working. Critically, the network also seeks to develop productive links between academics and museum professionals, creating spaces, practices and outputs for dialogue between past, present and future, and to conceptualise historical practice as a tool to improve accessible professionalisation today.

The network’s opening workshop, 1) Museum Work: Hierarchies and Barriers, Exclusion and Inclusion will take place in-person at Birkbeck in May 2023. It will consider particularly how hierarchies within and barriers to museum work have developed historically and are in evidence today, and how such hierarchies were and continue to be challenged and negotiated by those excluded and disempowered by museums. Confirmed keynote contributors so far include Professor Fiona Candlin (Birkbeck), Dr Errol Francis (Culture&), Louise McAward-White (Fair Museum Jobs) and Tamsin Russell (Museums Association). Subsequent workshops of the network will consider 2) the development of training and career paths within museum practice (online, autumn 2023) and 3) transnational forces in the development of museum professionals (Berlin, spring/summer 2024).

We are currently seeking proposals for the first workshop, for short presentations from museum practitioners and scholars working on museum history or practice, on topics relating to hierarchies, barriers and inclusion/exclusion in museum work, from a historical or contemporary perspective. Proposals might address:

  • How have hierarchies of class, disability, gender, race and sexuality impacted on the museum workforce, paid and unpaid? Have they worked equally at different types of organisation?
  • How have processes of professionalisation acted to include and exclude different groups?
  • How might these processes be reversed, mitigated or reimagined?
  • The often-derogatory term ‘amateur’ has often been used to reinforce museum workforce hierarchies but this masks the important contributions volunteers and other unpaid specialists have made to the sector. What are the characteristics of such practitioners and how has this group developed historically?

We welcome proposals which deal with different types and sizes of museum and consider a range of museum professions (e.g. conservation, design, education). We value the perspectives of professional networks and campaign groups, and presentations which – where possible – consider links between different time periods.

We anticipate a full and enriching day of knowledge sharing led by many different voices. In the first instance, please submit a summary or abstract of 150-200 words with a short speaker biography, describing the content of a 15-minute presentation, to Kate Hill (University of Lincoln) and Claire Wintle (University of Brighton) at

Depending on the number and nature of proposals received, we may approach participants to present their ideas in alternative formats (e.g. roundtables, conversations, lightning presentations) to make the most of the day and encourage dialogue and a diversity of perspective. Proposals will be considered by a panel of academics and museum practitioners.

Deadline for submissions: Monday 6 March 2023. We will respond by Monday 20 March 2023.

Bursaries: a small number of bursaries of up to £100 will be available to support the participation of minoritized researchers and/or practitioners without institutional support. This might contribute to travel or loss of earnings costs. Please mention when emailing if you would like to explore this further.