Arts careers advice | How do I get a job in an art gallery?

Working in an art gallery was my dream job for many years. As an art history student I knew that I wanted to put my love of art into practice. So, how did I go about getting a job in a modern art gallery? The truth is it took time, a strategic approach and a Master’s degree. But I got there! My first art gallery job was as an Education Officer at the Estorick Collection in London. This was then followed by several years working as a Researcher and Gallery Assistant at Connaught Brown in Mayfair.

I’m often asked: how do I get a job in an art gallery? So here’s my (personal) advice.

Volunteer

Museums and galleries are always interested in volunteers! I volunteered for a year in the Education Department at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford while studying. I usually volunteered for about 5 hours per month, so not lots of hours. Think about what you want to get out of volunteering – is it a specific set of skills or knowledge i.e. experience of using a collections database? I was interested in art gallery education jobs so was building up hands-on experience of running art workshops in the museum. I could then talk about this in my interviews.

Do an internship

Internships can be tough to find and secure, but totally worth the time it takes to apply. I did an internship at Christie’s auction house in their modern art department (as this was the area of art I knew I wanted to specialise in). Auction houses are at the heart of the art market, and it was exciting seeing how they work. I realised during my time there that I didn’t want a career in an auction house – but this is another reason to do an internship, to rule out the type of jobs you don’t want. It also looked impressive on my CV (more on how to write a great arts CV here).

Do a Masters

During my second art gallery job I was the one responsible for hiring interns. And I can tell you that an art history-related Masters on their CV always helped candidates to stand out. It shows motivation and dedication to the field. I did an Art History Masters at Oxford (working several summer jobs to fund it) and it really did get me interviews. One of the hiring managers told me this. Then, with employers I could talk about the modern art I had specialised in. For example I had written about and researched artists in the Estorick Collection. I also made sure I did lots of volunteering during my Masters, as I was able to fit this around my studies. Oh, and it was one of the best years of my life!

art gallery jobs
Here I am collecting my Masters certificate by bike! And one year on, teaching art in a school.

Bookmark art gallery jobs websites

There are some great art gallery jobs websites out there. My top 3 are:

University of Leicester Museum Studies Jobs desk (where I found and successfully applied to my first job at the Estorick Collection).
Arts & Heritage Guardian Jobs (where I found and secured my job at Connaught Brown).
Arts Council England

I also recommend using social media. On Twitter you should be following your favourite museums and galleries, as well as jobs feeds like @artsjobs ‏to be the first to know when jobs are advertised.

Don’t limit yourself by location

Most museum and gallery jobs (in the UK) are in London. Are you happy to move to the Capital? I wanted to be in the heart of the art world but did apply for a range of jobs in locations. One of my university friends moved to Glasgow for a BBC graduate trainee scheme – you can’t limit yourself by location. After finishing the scheme, she landed a job at Radio 1 in London (and got to live with me!). There are also an increasing number of jobs outside of London, including Birmingham art gallery jobs. Why not have a look at the jobs board at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery?

Realise that big isn’t always best

My first art gallery job at the Estorick Collection (as an Education Officer) was in a team of just 5 staff members. Tiny! And this meant that I got to see so much, from the planning of exhibitions to writing press releases for publicity. I got to help with exhibition installation, as well as running the entire education programme! When it came to my next job interview I was able to talk about wider art gallery experience than just my education role. So, don’t worry if you don’t end up in a national art gallery. Sometimes, small is smarter.

Don’t panic if your first job isn’t in an art gallery

Mine wasn’t. My first job after my Masters was in a school teaching art and art history. I knew I didn’t want to stay there and that long term I wanted to find an art gallery job. At the same time, I realised that this opportunity would allow me to develop my communication skills and knowledge of the education sector. The Estorick Collection gave me my job because they explained they wanted someone ‘with experience of working in a school’. Whilst working at the school I also continued to volunteer in an art museum on weekends, proving my commitment to the sector.

Identify which roles would suit you

Art gallery jobs are varied, from research and press relations to curating and exhibitions management. Do you know which would best suit your skill set and interests? Take the time to look at what sort of jobs are out there and which you would actually enjoy doing! I knew I liked working with people, helping them to learn about art, which meant I was looking for education roles. Then, go get a load of volunteering/work experience in that area.

Art galleries are not the only option! 

And finally, art galleries are not the only option for art history graduates/art lovers. Why not check out these 10 jobs you can do with an art history degree?

Ruth x

1 thought on “Arts careers advice | How do I get a job in an art gallery?

  1. Ruth,

    This is excellent – as always. An outstandingly clear piece of advice about getting started in the art gallery world highlighting some important truths, such as: finding your path and the right opportunities is for most people a ‘long game’; it pays to invest time in building relevant skills and experience even if the specific role is not directly on the desired ‘path’; and wherever you are, volunteering or paid, showing a willingness to take on additional tasks can enhance both your skills and knowledge, and your personal reputation.

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