Letter to the Editor: Must museum curator reapply for his job?

Dear Editor,

Regarding the letter of February 27 from J. Corrigan, as past president of the SD&G Historical Society, it may be appropriate to expand upon my brief interview given to Cornwall Newswatch after the February 26 City Council presentation by the Historical Society. Mr. Corrigan states that he “was appalled to learn that the newly created assistant-curator/Manager position, funded by municipal funds, was never advertised through any media outlets.” The reality is, as per my interview, that Mr. Don Smith is basically doing the same job for over 2 years but with an upgrade of training. As an example of performing curatorial duties, my wife and I have attended his (knowledgeable) museum tours and lectures as well as witnessed his museum/community oriented exhibits over the past few years. Awhile ago, (Ms. Sue Holland-Lalonde was not a board member) after a significant budget cut, the board decided that the funding situation was unstable. There was no guarantee that the society could afford a senior curator at a level that would be comparable with the experience of the retiring curator. The most pragmatic approach was to take advantage, as much as possible, of the senior curator’s experience before his departure and upgrade Don Smith’s curatorial skills by on-site training.

No “new assistant-curator/manager position” was ever created, let alone advertised. A new title was created, Manager/Associate Curator, to better reflect the reality of Don’s ongoing job at the museum and also better delineate the fact that Mr. Don Smith is not replacing Mr. Ian Bowering as senior curator. This fact is supported by the compensation received by Mr. Don Smith.

Indeed, after more than two years employment at the museum doing much the same work plus an upgrade in training, and at a similar salary (significantly less than the senior curator), is it fair that Mr. Don Smith would have to reapply for his job in order to continue to work at the museum? Imagine if one had to reapply to keep their job because their supervisor retires. Importantly, Mr. Don Smith’s credentials do allow him to apply for grant support at the federal and provincial (eg. CMOG) level, as was confirmed by our lawyer. Additionally, he has requisite computer, lecture and exhibition skills as exemplified by recent exhibits such as the Domtar, Courtaulds, Care Center (re-purposed Cornwall General Hospital), YM/YWCA (re-purposed 5th Street East condominium and the Compo vinyl record plant), which blends well with the new direction mandated for Canadian Museums.

Christopher Penney, Ph.D.
Past President,
SD&G Historical Society