Many years ago, you landed an unpaid curatorial summer internship that morphed into a low-paying job at a celebrated non-profit arts institution. Your beloved organization remains perilously underfunded despite its sterling reputation. You sit at your desk watching new directors rotate through the door while drinking leftover fundraiser wine and getting passed over for promotions. In addition to managing every detail of the exhibitions and performances, you are constantly dealing with budgets, fundraising, broken doorbells, running toilets, and dozens of other behind-the-scenes struggles. Friends, well-wishers, and the artists whose careers you have boosted regularly suggest that you should take your vast experience to another venue, but you hesitate to shake things up because it isn’t just a job, it’s a community—not to mention an identity. Scrolling through Instagram posts of the lavish holiday parties that your friends in other industries are attending, you stare at the overstuffed A/V closet and decide to make a resolution for 2022. Take this quiz to find out if you will make a break or stay the course.
1. The director of the non-profit gives a short speech thanking everyone for their hard work on the gala, but forgets your name. You:
a. Clear your throat loudly and pretend not to care.
b. Add a choicely worded paragraph about this incident to your imaginary resignation letter.
c. Quietly change the password of the director’s computer to “1maB1gd1ck69”.
2. During installation, you discover members of the artist collective smoking weed in the bathroom instead of working on the show. You:
a. Ban them from the institution for breaking smoking policies.
b. Ignore them and continue hunting for the HDMI dongle you need to play their video.
c. Sell them an ounce of OG Kush as part of your side hustle.
3. At the opening of a new show, the audience is tripping on the unsecured power cords on the floor of the video art installation. You:
a. Grab the fluorescent gaffer tape that you keep in your purse, part the crowd, and go to town on the floor while looking damn fine in your best party attire.
b. Pretend not to see the problem and act surprised when the projector falls off the pedestal.
c. Summon a mental image of your curatorial studies diploma and wave an installer over to fix it.
4. The cleaning crew quit because of overdue payments, and until others can be hired it looks like you have to clean the bathroom. You:
a. Hang a sign with a map to the bathroom at Whole Foods around the corner.
b. Cry, use your own credit card to buy a new toilet plunger, and lose the receipt so that you can’t get reimbursed.
c. Install a dimmer light bulb to hide the horror.
5. The computers in the office cannot open a video file the artist sent because the software is grossly out of date. You:
a. Get an intern to torrent Adobe Creative Suite and promptly give your network a permanent virus.
b. Ask the guy you’re dating if you can borrow his laptop for the screening.
c. Cancel the show.
6. You can’t afford to pay W.A.G.E. certified fees to the collective you’ve invited to do a show because there are so many artists: You:
a. Complain to the artists that you aren’t paid fairly either.
b. Apologize profusely while offering the same fee to 10 people that you’d normally give to three.
c. Immediately call the president of the board to solicit a donation to pay the artists fairly.
7. The artist is demanding that you make an edit to the spring calendar program that is already at the printers. You:
a. Stop the presses, pay the extra fees, and honor the caption credit correction.
b. Tell them the error will be fixed online and that nobody reads the mailers anyway.
c. Tell them you will change it, then do nothing, inspired by your sound guy who nods and does nothing when an artist asks for more volume in their monitor.
8. The alcohol moocher showed up to your opening yet again and has passed out in the only public bathroom. You:
a. Tell everyone he is doing a site-specific performance and clap when the medics take him away.
b. Steal his wallet.
c. Revive him with smelling salts and convince him to become a volunteer docent.
9. Holiday gift season crept up, but you are stuck working at the front door over the weekend again. You:
a. Give everyone on your list a coupon for a free screening before panicking and remembering your aunt doesn’t even live in the city.
b. Regift a book you never read to a co-worker for the staff’s “Secret Santa” party.
c. Dip into the stash of forgotten vintage exhibition posters and surprise your friends with stocking-stuffer collectibles.
10. For some reason, you are the one who has to decide whether or not to buy or lease a new Xerox machine for the office when the old one dies. You:
a. Research all options, read many different contracts, and make the most financially prudent decision.
b. Call your therapist’s private number to ask for their opinion.
c. Are still trying to decide which Brother P-Touch replacement ribbon model to buy.
11. A screwup with the end of the year fundraising letter will require you and the staff to hand stamp each envelope so that they arrive anywhere close to on time. You:
a. Swear never to do another end of the year letter again, just like you did last year.
b. Buy pizzas and beer to make a party out of it.
c. Send everyone home to seal each letter with their tears.
11–17: You are the unsung hero of the institution and the art world is probably a better place with you there as a faithful caretaker. Leaving your job would mean abandoning everything that you’ve been working on for all these years just to keep the place from imploding. Sure, there are others who would gladly replace you, but will they be able to handle the weight of so many keys hanging from their belt? You and your organization will continue to grow old. But remember that by holding onto your position for longer you are guaranteeing that the status quo will remain in place for years to come.
18–25: You remain on the fence about leaving and decide to kick the can down the road. There is something strangely comforting about bringing your own space heater and hand soap to work. Sure, the tasks make you feel underemployed, but there are also beautiful moments that make it all worth it—like the times you get to curate your own show or when you connect with a grateful artist who understands your monastic non-profit struggle.
26–33: It’s time to press eject and walk the earth a free person. You paid your dues and the institution will probably manage to survive without your sweat and tears. Your years of service will be commended in a printed shoutout in next year’s gala program, and the staff will continue to remember you every time that a Uline catalog shows up in the mail addressed to you. Take time to heal from your non-profit PTSD, but don’t forget to download your contact list and nab a few reams of printer paper. They will come in handy at your next job!
A special holiday note from Chen & Lampert: Please consider making a year-end donation to your local art non-profit. Your kind support will help to create a positive work environment for non-profit staff and go towards providing important resources for artists and education programs.