How do independent arts and museum professionals build supportive community?

Since I started the work of figuring out the next stage of my career, I’ve been having amazing conversations with museum colleagues from around the United States. These conversations remind me how much I love having a museum community, and how amazing our colleagues are.

Museum educator, consultant, and self-proclaimed pirate Rachel Ropeik (who left her full time job in 2020) and I have an ongoing conversation and check in. It goes something like:

“What adventures have you taken lately?”

“I just finished driving around out west and camping” (Rachel) or  “I’m headed to Vermont to take myself on a retreat” (Rachel) or “Last week I spent time in NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC,” (me) or “I am hoping to cycle from Myrtle Beach to Savanah in the next month or two” (me).

“And what have you figured out about the kind of consultant you are and the kind of work you’re doing?”

And then we launch into it… offering workshops for the field vs consulting for museums. The applicability of museum expertise to other fields. How you find clients. The role, opportunities, and challenges of a consultant.

I should add: There are many things that keep me from committing to life as a consultant. One is the constant need to sell your services. Another is that there seem to be a lot of people already doing great work in this space. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I miss having a work family. How can you be an independent consultant, and still be part of a work community?

During one of our conversations, Rachel and I started thinking about this – was a real, meaningful, consulting community something that we could help create? How can we learn from others who are living in this in between space, trying to figure out what’s next and make a go of it on their own? How can we share what we’ve learned?

Rachel, in her brilliance, developed the Consortium of Arts Related Entrepreneurs (CARE) – a space where independent entrepreneurs can come together. I’m particularly intrigued by the virtual co-working sessions, which will be twice a month. And looking forward to having a work family of some sort – I miss having a work family.

This morning, I signed up for CARE. If you are in a similar space – working independently in the arts and culture realm and looking for a meaningful network – please consider joining this group! If you know of other community-building inititives for independent workers, please share them here!

One other resource I have found and look forward to participating in: American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Independent Museum Professionals Network (IMP). In 2022 this group offered 14 programs and events—eight in person and six online—ranging from programming and marketing strategies to IMPs as Agents of Change. IMP serves 1,426 members. Their next program is on January 25, and you can register here. IMP doesnt have an independent website, but you can learn more here or join the group through the IMP Intersections group on Museum Junction. (If you are not an AAM member, just create a profile to join.)

Museum consultants, what are some other ways that you have built or accessed a professional community for yourself?

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