Just what does an ‘80s rock band have to do with conservation? Quite a bit, according to Claudia Chemello and Suzanne Davis, Conservators at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, who gave a talk titled: “Get Your Fieldwork for Nothin’ and Your Sherds for Free: Compensation for Archaeological Field Conservation.” The title refers to the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing”, which proved an excellent inverse parallel for the Qualtrics survey Claudia and Suzanne conducted, the findings of which they presented in this talk. For context, you might want to go ahead and watch the music video for this song before reading the rest of this blog entry: Money for Nothin’
Claudia and Suzanne started this project with three hypotheses:
- Most conservators working on archaeological sites are not paid
- For those who are paid, there is no standard
- Most conservators are unhappy with the current state of compensation.
Happily, their first hypothesis turned out to be false: 82% of the conservators surveyed are paid something. Of the respondents who did not get paid, the highest percentage (33%) said that the project was not able to pay a conservator, but, interestingly, did pay other professional staff; this slide is appropriately accompanied by a photograph from 1920 of a young volunteer on site in Syria who says: “Get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free?”. 69% of the conservators who were paid also volunteered on other projects, and they did so for several reasons: they wanted to help a project with a small budget, they wanted to gain experience, or simply because they enjoy it. I think its safe to say that many of us in the audience, myself included, have done some amount of unpaid conservation work—in the field or out of the field—for one or more of those reasons.
Although only 50 of the 116 responders used for analysis provided salary data, the information given by these 50 professionals proved that the authors’ second hypothesis is correct: there does not appear to be a standard salary for field conservators. Indeed, the salaries provided varied rather dramatically, ranging from $58 per week to $8,000 per week! The mean salary was $946 a week, the median $563, and the mode $1,000. The difference between the very low minimum salary and very high maximum salary is partially based on the experience of the conservator: the person making the highest salary was very experienced and provided a number of services other than conservation treatment.
Claudia and Suzanne reported a number of other interesting statistics: 44% of the responders have only 0-5 years of experience (perhaps this explains the relatively low median salary?); 72% of those paid were paid by archaeological projects and 68% of these conservators were compensated based on the project’s budget (“are we letting projects determine what we’re paid?”); and a rather surprising 22% of respondents did not provide their projects with a written report (yikes!). The survey yielded many other interesting results, too many for a single blog post, and I look forward to re-visiting them in the Postprints.
In the end, it turns out that only 41% of the respondents are satisfied with their current state of compensation—proving the authors’ third hypothesis to be more or less correct. Claudia and Suzanne hope that the data obtained in this survey will be used for the following purposes: in salary discussions with dig directors and employers; to educate dig directors about the number and value of the services provided for their projects; to encourage conservators not writing reports to do so; and to advocate for an appropriate conservation budget from the beginning of the grant-writing process. The authors told the audience to feel empowered to challenge the statement: “everyone on my project works for free”. This fascinating (and entertaining) talk certainly emphasized the importance of communication and outreach, essential topics that have been highlighted by many of the speakers in this meeting.