Forward: This booklet contains images from a private Facebook Group that is communally run by employees of the Visitor Services Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This private Facebook group has existed for 2+ years and has 30+ members. This booklet also contains the responses of 10 members from a survey which took place in a 48 hour polling period between August 7th 2018 at 7:00pm - August 9th, 2018 at 7:00pm. While positions among these employees within the VS department vary, they will not be listed, so as to respect their privacy. All names and identifying information have been blurred for privacy’s sake, and answers to questions have been grouped in bullet points, so as not to create a singular identity for any employee per question. Lastly, it should be known that this Facebook Group has historically been used to post silly/fun pictures of fellow employees, although the majority of those posts have been intentionally left out to protect privacy/facial recognition. The posts included in this book are not organized in chronological order, but grouped according to their relavence to survey answers. The organizer of this booklet has gained consent from a group majority to use Facebook posts from the private group for distribution in this booklet. No posts in this booklet were made by a person who did not give consent for their use. This information is merely organized and presented, with the intention to be redistributed among VS department employees. At present, there is no consensus to distribute this information to any “higher-level” employees at the MCA. Key: (X) = indicates that X number of people have the same response MCA= Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago VS = Visitor Services Department BO = Box Office MG = Madeleine Grysztejn, director of the MCA Intro to the 48 hour survey: Greetings, members of [redacted]! Please feel free to answer any of the following questions, but know that if you feel uncomfortable with a question or that it’s not relevant/is redundant, you are not obligated to answer. Thank you so much for your time! With love and solidarity, [redacted].
1. How long have you been working at the MCA? • • • • • • •
5 years (2) 4 years (2) 1 year 1.5 years 3 years 5+ years I’m an ex employee who was at the museum for 12 months.
2. Will you continue to work at the MCA for longer than a year? • Yes (3) • maybe • As in another year?? Ugh... probably. • yes • nope! • Probably. Money is the anthem to success. Everybody knows it! It’s a fact (kiss emoji) (kiss emoji) • I may be returning lol so yes. • Unfortunately, probably yes... 3. What would you consider a fair wage for your museum work in Chicago? • $15 (3) • $15/hr • $13-14/hr • no! • $15/hr- at part time, [redacted] • 15-17 dollars an hour • $15/hr -- which just so happens to be the price of admission for ONE adult at the MCA..... • [redacted] a year/[redacted] an hour (and that’s actually probably low...)
4. What does your ideal workplace look like? Is this something you feel could be attainable at the MCA? • Sustainable wage or ability towards upward mobility. No. • fair wages, room for growth/collaboration, transparency. I am not sure if this is possible at MCA with the current upper management and structure. • Challenging, fun, plenty of independence and higher lever trust in my abilities. In some departments and with higher level employees, yes. It’s typically rare for any company to treat entry level employees like they’re capable. • being compensated for the work im doing, yes • My ideal workplace would be one where the whole institute is well aware of the hard work we as VS staff out forth. During big blockbuster exhibits where we, on average, are helping 400 people each per staff member, and yet all the glory and praise goes to curators and our artistic director, work falls flat. I would like more recognition from the hirer ups as opposed to treating the part time staff like they’re disposable- when in reality many of us stay on for YEARS. I think this is attainable if the institution wanted it to be a priority, but from their point of view it isn’t a good return on their investment. • An environment where everyone works together. Where the power imbalance isn’t so strong. Good team listeners and managers receptive to feedback. It could be at the MCA with the right person spearheading the team. Pretending like you have power won’t do anything for anyone besides tell us you’re a mess. • Yes. As far as work environments go, the MCA was not insanely awful. An ideal environment for me is horizontally structured co op which is far from what we had at the MCA but jobs were well covered, breaks were provided with regularity, and the boss’s did provide at least the semblance of feedback. In my ideal environment tho, decision making would be entirely democratic, staff voting on initiatives and actively shaping both employee and visitor experiences. • A space in which there seem to be littler barriers between departments. Physically, the workplace offers their workers multiple spaces to work in private, or in groups. There seems to be a fluidity between people/their departments, and other departments that are within a space. I feel that the idea of openess between departments is possible, but due to the nature of an institution being one in which hierarchy persists, this would take time to establish. • My ideal workplace is one that evenly distributes the value of it’s employees despite how long they’ve worked there, their level of education, their department, and their role. My ideal workplace is also one that provides a LIVING WAGE FOR ALL. I feel this is attainable-- but would require a lot of hard work, organizing, and persistence among the employees that are not as valued/paid less to finally have their voices heard. • My ideal workplace would be with a company that values their employees over everything else, knowing that if they treat their employees amazingly, their employees will then WORK amazingly. And no, this would not be attainable by the MCA unless major changes occurred.
5. What, if anything, would you like to change about your work environment? • The wage. • increase wages • I would like to ask the managers to remove the stick from their ass. It’s just art, chill. No one is dying. Most of them need new jobs tbh. And obviously, more money. • more $$ • The pay wage and pay gap at the MCA is sinful. I also wish that there was a bit more accountability amongst coworkers, however, when everyone is so burnt out, and have little incentive to step up their game, why would they? • More support behind our department. One manager needs to stop hogging the spotlight/all the power. Better funding for our department. Better help with our outreach system. Why the fuck are we looking up our own places? One day I’m gonna get tired and troll sending stage info to a pizza joint. You want us to help you? Then help us. Communication also needs improvement but I feel like that’s beating a dead horse at this point. • The pay. • I would change the respect that is shared among departments. There persists a notion that individuals within “lower areas” (i.e V.S) seem to be ignored by others. We are all within the same space; acknowledging each other is not a difficult task. • I would like there to be a living wage for all AND mutual, horizontal level of respect and value placed on all employees. I would like managers of departments like VS and Security to advocate more for the value of their departments and it’s employees. I think people have this notion that change can only come from higher up-- when often it’s the exact opposite. We need mid-level managers to be speaking to higher level managers on behalf of employees making next to nothing. We need the director of the museum to make time (when she’s back from her paid 3 month sabbatical in which she’ll make more than what 3-4 VS employees will make in a year) and to be listening to people in special event coat check. That’s progressive. • My pay. I’d also love to have the ability to tell people to ‘buzz off’ if they are being dicks instead of try and please them.
6. What do you like about your job? What makes you stay? • The coworkers and art culture. • the people, I love working with my colleagues I would have left a long time ago if it wasn’t for them. • My coworkers are the only reason I ever pick up shifts. Period. And it’s nice getting paid for an hour break. My new job only gives me 30 minutes and is so raggedy as to not pay me either. • I love my coworkers and that i get health insurance • My coworkers are some of the best people you will meet. I stay because it is cool to be surrounded by art, but also because my coworkers get it. They get where I am in life, they understand the artistic life struggle, and honestly, they’re supportive AF. • I like the people I work with. They’re enjoyable and easy going! I like the staff lunch we can buy which is AUHMAZING for $7 from a bougie restaurant. I like the flexibility in the schedule. Sometimes I get restless doing the same routine and it never feels like that at the MCA because I get to choose what works for me and what doesn’t re: scheduling. I like the special events we have, specifically the galas. They never feel stuffy because we’re all drunk by the end of the night anyway. • I didn’t, but I love it because of the art and the co workers. And the bathrooms. The pleasure of shitting in those beautiful bathrooms cannot be understated. • I enjoy the charisma, passion and creativity that each individual brings to Visitor Services. I feel that the Visitor Services team is a family; we are here for each other, and everyone sticks together. I stay due to my coworkers, and the flexibility • I love my coworkers-- they are some of the most caring, supportive people I have ever known. This is a group of hardworking, intelligent, and caring people who have showed up for each other time and time again. They are what makes me stay. • My coworkers!
7. What role has the private Facebook group played in your relationship with your coworkers and your job? • Making me feel less alone. Validating my negative experiences at work. Feeling connected and closer to my coworkers. • its made us more connected and allows us to vent, cover shifts, share whats going on in our lives. its a community. • It’s easy to feel like an island on your own. it’s easier to feel like no one really cares that you’re experiencing difficulties, stress or bullshit. But the FB group was created in a time we needed it most. When things were most chaotic and stressful and hard. It was great to vent about the dumb/rude/ horrible patron that come in. It was even better to let off steam about managerial frustrations. It gave us a shorthand to communicate. A way to know that “I see you” and “You are seen”. It definitely got to a boiling head though and became a hot bed for negativity. But it’s simmered since then, albeit we don’t use it as much. #newemployees • i think it started strong then got dark haha. but its nice to have a place where we can be unfiltered <3 • It’s nice to have a place to vent/explain the ridiculousness that happens when you interact with the public for a living. There isn’t an official place to do this at work. We would get lectured about professionalism, or flexibility, so it’s often a stress reliever to share something with other people who have gone through what you have. • It lets me know I’m not going crazy and that yes, in fact, so and so is on their bullshit. It helps us to gather our thoughts so we can bring our concerns to the higher ups. It’s a great place to vent about daily work stress because everyone gets it. • Solidarity producing, gradual radicalization of workforce, recognition of our collective struggle for a better workplace • Even though I do not have a Facebook, it is nice to have a group chat/when people let me look at the page, to know that we are all having similar experiences. That common threads of agitation, frustration or confusion are shared among us. • It has been a source of refuge from issues that aren’t easily brought up. It lets me know that others are on the same page as me. It is a place to post funny pictures, memes, and the occasional complaint. I am grateful for its existence. • [redacted] it has helped keep me in the loop about certain situations [redacted].
8. Do you see a difference between how the museum portrays its image versus how power is distributed/addressed? • Yes. • yes. • HAHAHAHAH! Yes. It’s essentially a microcosm for everything happening in the country. They try to appear woke and on the forefront, but god forbid they listen to those they deem less than them (aka the guest relations departments). We have the most knowledge about how people feel about the MCA, we are literally the reason the museum opens everyday. But we are given the least amount of pay, and the smallest voice. They definitely make it known there’s a hierarchy structure and there’s no open door policy amongst departments or higher ups. • yes. its so funny to proclaim that you are for social change while following a capitalist structure that is killing us all! • ha! yes. The MCA likes to portray itself as a ‘radically welcoming’ institute at the for front of the Chicago community, but in reality, much of what it outs on display is run by their (mostly white, rich) board. On one end, I get it. You have to have monetary backers to keep the museum afloat. But why aren’t we trying to make our board more diverse? Why don’t we have a junior board? Why don’t we have a fucking happy hour at the new restaurant for broke ass artists in this community? Madeleine, the director, makes more money a month than I do for the whole year. Does she have more degrees, experience, and a higher-profile job? You betcha. Should she be paid more than me? Yes. Should I have to struggle to make ends meet and have to put forth my energy everyday to satisfy and explain to patrons why things are the way they are in the museum when neither they themselves nor I had a say? Nope. It sometimes feels like you’re defending values blindly just because that’s what is expected of you. • OH MOST DEFINITELY LIKE FIRST OF ALL THE DISPLAY OF DIVERSITY IS A J O K E. IT SHOULDNT HAVE TAKEN THE YEAR OF 2016 FOR A CONTEMPORARY MUSEUM TO REALIZE THEY NEED MORE FACES OF COLOR. GENDER AND HOW WE SEE OURSELVES IS CHANGING AND YET. THE MUSEUM CLAIMS TO BE INCLUSIVE BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DISABLED??? Why is our management ALL white in the year of our Lorde 2018? Why did a team member have to fight tooth and nail to get simple pronoun buttons? H O W L O N G does it take a director to see that their stale vision for the architecture isn’t very appealing nor helpful to people with disabilities? DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON ALL THE MONEY BEING SAT ON OR SPENT IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES!! • Yes. It’s not the progressive instruction it says it is. It’s an oppressive, conservative edifice of old money and bourgeoisie culture. It is capitalism incarnate • Very much so. The museum seems to pride itself upon being an “inclusive, accessible” space, and seems to want to thwart the notion of being an institution (an institution is a loaded term; it is weighed down by a bureaucracy, and systemic exploration of workers). But, in this, the MCA is apart of this system it seems to want to not be apart of. It takes meeting after meeting to get approval for anything (pronoun pins should not have taken as long as they did), higher ups who do wrong (i.e some curators) seem to get a slap on their wrist when they do something wrong, and information is kept away staff. The MCA wants to be seen as an all welcoming area, but it has to begin internally. (continued on next page)
• HA!!! YES!! In the yearS that I have been working at the MCA, I have seen this institution and it’s Director MG publicly pat itself on the back for being ~soooooo~ progressive. Uh. Congrats? Congratulations on your wild success of spending $6 million dollars on a renovation/new restaurant while refusing to give your minimum wage employees a guaranteed $.25 cent raise every year. Congrats on the INSANE work that was done by the VS department during the Murakami show, (which was the most attended show at the MCA EVER) and then giving certain employees a meager bonus so they’d shut up? CONGRATS ON PREACHING PROGRESS WHILE UPHOLDING THE CAPITALIST INSTITUTION AND PROFITING OFF BLACK BODIES. you really did it, MCA! round of applause! racism is solved! the wage gap is closed, and it was all you, MG! • 100%. Most of what the museum says it wants to do/provide, to the community, to its employees, is lip service. I don’t think the museum as a whole intends to make themselves appear more amazing than they are really, but it’s just run by money and a board with old farts who don’t care about employees, just the bottom line.
9. Respect, Power, & Agency. What is your relationship to these terms when considering your job? • I don’t feel powerful or necessarily important/respected. • this is tricky. I dont feel as an employee we get much respect or power however we are the face of the museum that represents their views and voice, we are the agency. • Respect: I respect my coworkers. And the respectability politics that happen in the MCA are the reason i’ve bitten my tongue so frequently. Power: Money is power, and rich people care about art cause they’re bored and think it makes them relevant. The more power (aka money) that is displayed, the less authentic and “For The People” the art and spaces become. Agency: I guess our manages always try to have agency. Probably to feel like their lives have more meaning (that was mean, but also honest cause again...it’s literally just art). There’s this pressure of agency for the MCA to be on the cutting edge or leading some invisible pack. So, we must push harder, be bigger, do more and do it faster and cheaper and be happy cause we gotta go go go. And they haven’t stepped back to realize how they’re doing it to themselves. • Also, at work I’ve always had to take the agency into my own hands. We’ve got indecisive managers, people who feel that we must follow the hierarchy protocol just to throw some flyers in the recycle bin. So, you go ahead and you do it. Ask for permission later. Normally, no one even notices it’s gone. • I try to be true to these in all aspects of life at work or not. i guess by that i mean regardless of if im at i will conduct myself in the same manor according to these principals. • I’m in a unique position at the museum that makes this a little hard for me to answer. It’s something I grapple with often. As the person to first receive a full time position on the floor, I feel responsible to use my power for good. My opinion within the department is well respected, but outside of that, I am seen as a 20-something who laughs a little too loud in the kitchenette. I have been full time for over 2 years, and have worked at the museum for 4, which is longer than some higher ups have worked at the museum. Many don’t know my name. Many don’t know I work 40 hours a week (just like they do) and that if there has been a blockbuster exhibit, you bet your ass I was there on *the* busy day of the exhibit. Again, I’m not asking for prestige or a red carpet roll out, but it would be nice to be recognized as someone with agency not just in my department, but all of the institution. For a while, I was THE only person who worked 40 hours a week ON THE FLOOR. So to not be included in major institutional discussions about what happens ON THE FLOOR or with our patrons, doesn’t make me feel respected. Sure, my managers know what happens for the most part, but don’t you want to hear from the people who’s literal job it is to deal with YOUR patrons 40 hours a week? Unfortunately, I’m good at what I do. But most of the museum doesn’t know that, or seem to care. • I respect my co-workers. The power struggle can suck my bumhole though. Agency? Eh. No one listens to me anyway • I have very little except respect for my coworkers and the understanding that together, we may have much more power than we believe or are shown. (continued on next page)
• Respect is acknowledgement, and fair treatment to all; this is seen within each department to themselves, but it seems to lag when it comes to “lower” positions. Power resides in those that are deemed “worthy” at the museum, when each of us have the ability to contribute to something great. Agency is lost due to the bureaucratic nature of the museum. Frustrations are made known, but little action is taken. • As I said earlier, my coworkers are intelligent, hardworking, and caring and yet somehow, they are NOT respected. So there’s that on that. Power is unevenly distributed in this institution, just like every other institution that upholds capitalism. It is only when I think about radicalizing the VS department to demand change that I feel as though I have agency within this institution. • Very little relationship-I have respect for [redacted], but often don’t feel like the museum itself respects me. Power is given only to the top few people here and no one ever seems to question it. Agency-I have more freedom sans big boss, but in reality, very little.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to communicate re: working as a museum employee? • I feel like I do so much and get so little out. It’s very disheartening when I’m told I’m worth more by managers, but no change is made. • I wish it was more attainable to be a full time museum employee and not have to have 20 other side hustles. I am answering this as a young professional that is not in upper upper management. Even mid management gets paid shit and its not realistic or respectful. I wish there was more encouragement to pursue this passion and work in this industry but the politics make it shitty. • Do it if you’ve got something to say. Play the game, but don’t let the game play you (most people lose FYI). Or ya know...just don’t. • I got into a very dangerous cycle of working at the museum because my work life and social life became so intertwined. The coworkers and friends that I have had working here just can’t be beat. I consider myself very, very lucky. That being said: there is such thing as compassion burn out. Nurses talk about it all the time, but it never seems to be discussed within the nonprofit or customer service world. I’m not a full manager. I don’t have a desk upstairs. I work on the floor most of the week, yet am also expected to know what is going on in management, report to them, all while have no agency to effect immediate change on the floor, or take charge. I’m expected to be the shining beacon of Customer Service Perfection while having no complaints, all while putting out fires before they even get to an actual manager, or hirer up. It’s unrealistic, and when your VERY TALENTED AND APT STAFF tells you things aren’t work, it’s not a teaching moment, or time to explain what it means to be a team player- it’s time to shut up and LISTEN. Then ask ‘what can I do for YOU?’ That question is almost NEVER asked of the VS staff. • I like the museum. There’s so much it could do better. In order to improve they need to genuinely listen to our concerns. Visitor service is with the customers day in and day out. We’re not crazy and we know what we’re talking about. Funding for the arts is already a hassle. Higher ups don’t need to make it harder than it already is. • When we strike, we win ;) • People glamorize the museum (the museum is a stand-in for all museums). I still love these spaces, but the wool of the museum as a special and wholesome place has been removed. No matter what occurs, the museum is still part of a capitalistic, corporate system. It is through discussions, and listening, that I think museums can tear down the systems they like to critique but are apart of. It takes time, but it is not hard to try and open that discussion up. • LIVABLE WAGES FOR ALL. STOP PREACHING PROGRESS AND MAKE IT HAPPEN WITHIN THE INSTITUTION FIRST. PERIOD. • The people who work at the museum are some of the best humans on the face of the planet. They are the actual reason many of us stay here-they are our family. I don’t know what to do with my life, or perhaps HOW to do what I want to do with my life, so I stay because it’s far less frustrating than finding another job...however it’s getting to the point where I may think of jobs elsewhere. But also super hard to leave your ‘family’ in some ways. But it’s people, like [redacted], who bring magic and sass and beauty and make me stay.
The following posts were made in the private Facebook Group during/directly following the closing of the Takashi Murakami ‘blockbuster’ exhibition at the MCA, which saw 193,000+ visitors during it’s 3 month run:
Special thanks to those who participated in the 48 hour survey to make this booklet possible. What we give each other & considering how we can be there for each other matters. You know where to find me. Together we are better. <3