Retooling for the Revolution: Framing the Future of Museum Management After COVID-19


In March 2020, COVID-19 descended on American museums, exposing financial and operational fragility. It also exposed the limitations, harms and inequities of standard practices in museum management. The result was a widespread deaccessioning of staff, gutting departments that directly serve audiences and disproportionately impacting workers of color – a regressive step in a field moving toward decolonized and audience-centered practice. Despite the retrenchment, signs also indicate a revolution in progress. Key thinkers have argued that museums are making a long-term paradigm shift, from “being about something to being for somebody” (WEIL 1999). Responses to COVID-19 suggest that this shift has yet to penetrate the ‘deep structures’ of museum management. This article recognizes a museum “paradigm crisis” in which old and emerging systems coexist and conflict. Arguing that museums have neglected human-entered management strategies, it puts forward Bolman and Deal’s ‘Four Frames’ concept to build the managerial toolkit. Finally, it identifies priorities needed in an emerging paradigm: racial and cultural equity and diversity, compensation and wage equity, smarter work practices, and community care.