Keeping it classy: Class and Museums

Class is a tricky subject. What does it mean? How do we define it? Usually when I think about class, this sketch comes to mind.

Class, as a concept, pretty much boils down to the idea of “knowing one’s place” whatever that means. Does it mean background? Does it have something to do with income? Can it change? On the evening of Monday 14th November, Museum Hour hosted a discussion about class in museums. It was a fascinating, if challenging read.

Basically, us Brits are obsessed with class as we are about the weather.

Nailing my flag to the mast here; as someone who was raised in a single parent household, in the most deprived postcode in Essex, eligible for free school meals and got the EMA at A Level,  maintenance grants at University whose Grandfather worked for Ford at Dagenham, I identify as ‘working class.’ Proudly.

Yet, according to the BBC’s Great British Class Calculator I am Technical Middle Class. I suppose that makes sense – I do enjoy hummus…

But what does all this have to do with museums?

What indeed.

There seems to be some notion that the working classes don’t go to museums – they go to football matches instead. This kind of view is nonsense, on all sorts of levels. I hated football, but loved museums. My earliest memories of museums were visiting the ones in South Ken with my Nan. These trips would be a treat, museums were something special, things that should be treasured. We only went about once a year or so, not because we weren’t ‘culturally confident’ but because it was tricky getting to London. Expensive, too.

This sums things up rather well:

Museums being free is something that we should fight tooth and nail for. Unfortunately, it’s something we tend to take for granted – I only realise how lucky we are when I go on holiday and actually have to pay for entry. Outrageous. (Thinking about it, football matches aren’t exactly cheap and yet the working classes are happy to pay for tickets… Hmmm).

Visiting with family was an important factor in inspiring the current generation of museum workers. We need to keep museums free to give everyone the chance to visit but we need to take a long hard look at recruitment too – I had to work several jobs to support myself volunteering to get the vital experience I needed to get a job in the sector.Even when I got a job that paid, it was a zero hour contract.

Getting a job in this sector is tough, and even when you find one that pays, it won’t pay very well.

This is where class rears it’s ugly head again. Those who aren’t from the middle/upper end of the class scale don’t have the resources to work for free, meaning it’s that much harder to secure a job, meaning that museums get even more exclusive.

But here’s the thing – as long as everyone can go to museums, people from all backgrounds, classes, whatever, can be inspired by them, will want to work for them and will find a way.

This bears repeating.


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