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Careers in museums and galleries

Careers in museums and galleriesOpen your eyes to the wide range of jobs in museums and art galleries, and how to get one.

If you love art, history or science, working in an art gallery or museum might seem like having a job in heaven. It can also seem just as tricky to get into though, since it’s a very competitive sector. However, with thousands of museums and art galleries ranging from vast world famous venues like the National Gallery in London to smaller museums in their local community, the opportunities are there if you have the brains and persistence to find them. Jobs in the sector include:

  • Curators and collection managers

Curators decide what should be on display, and often write the information about them. They need to be absolute experts in their field, so most have a postgraduate qualification in a subject like history or fine art, and do lots of research as part of their job. Collections managers actually build up a museum’s collections, by buying exhibits or arranging for charitable donations, and making sure exhibits are properly recorded and cared for. They also need a solid understanding of their subject, and great organisational and negotiating skills. These roles might be split between two people, or one person might do both jobs in smaller places. Museums and art galleries might also employ separate exhibitions managers, who arrange visiting exhibitions, and act as intermediaries between the museum’s own collections staff and the curators of the visiting exhibition.

  • Education and outreach

Education workers organise school trips and workshops for children at museums and art galleries. Many education workers will have a postgraduate teaching qualification or some experience of working in schools, and need to be really enthusiastic, imaginative and knowledgeable to engage young people. Outreach workers need similar skills as it’s their job to work with people like young offenders who don’t normally visit museums, and they might also make visits out into the community.

  • Visitor services

Gallery assistants are responsible for looking after both what’s on display and the people there to see it, which means making sure no-one damages anything and answering general questions from the public. All gallery assistants need good communication skills, and some might have studied for an NVQ in heritage care and visitor services, although this isn’t essential.There are also opportunities for staff to work in the gift shops or restaurants, where a qualification like a BTEC in catering and hospitality could come in handy.

Plus, all those people looking after the public need someone to look after them as well. This is the job of museum managers, who organise staff rotas and other administrative tasks, often working alongside accountants in the finance department. Managers and accountants normally have a degree or other qualification in business management, accountancy or a related subject.

  • Conservation

Museums and art galleries are full of old things, and conservation tries to stop them looking any older. Conservators repair and preserve objects, which could mean anything from cleaning the dust from old paintings to making sure a 15th century chair doesn’t collapse. Conservation requires specialist training, normally to postgraduate level, and involves learning different scientific techniques and methods of preserving objects. Rather than just working at one museum, many conservators will specialise in one type of conservation such as fabrics or wood, and offer their services to different museums on a freelance basis.

  • Marketing and fundraising

Marketing staff promote museums and their exhibitions, by producing marketing materials like leaflets and posters, running social media campaigns and inviting critics to review exhibitions. Many museum marketing staff have a qualification in marketing, but all will be great communicators and highly organised and creative. Some marketing staff will also be fundraisers, or in some places this might be a different job. Fundraisers are responsible for getting in the money museums need to buy exhibits and cover their running costs, which could mean anything from writing applications for grants from corporate sponsors to organising fundraising events and volunteers.

How do I get into working in museums and galleries?

Almost all curatorial and exhibitions staff have a degree, and you can also study postgraduate courses in museum studies at certain universities. However, the most important thing for getting your foot in the door is work experience. Write to your local museum or art gallery to see if they have any vacancies for gallery assistants, and you could also offer to volunteer as a fundraiser or help out with outreach events. This will not only give you inside experience of museums and a good range of contacts but will also be a big reward in itself. Which is one of the main reasons people choose to work in the sector, since although you’ll be surrounded by cultural riches you won’t be earning riches yourself. Most museum staff earn less than £20,000 a year, although senior management, finance and marketing staff can expect to earn more after a few years.

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