Finding a job can be tough—especially when you’re looking for a job in art.
The problem is that everyone wants to work in art, but jobs are few and far between. Even if you’ve dedicated your education to the arts, the competition is hot.
Add to that a global pandemic and major financial cuts and, like “breaddread”, you might be left wondering whether it was all worth it.
At ArtBrowser, we believe that art should be open to all. It’s easy to feel intimidated if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in art (especially as the industry has traditionally been a very white, privileged space), but remember this: the art world is what you make it.
To help you get off to a flying start, we’ve put together a guide to getting a job in art, with advice from professionals who have already built successful careers. We’ll also be looking at how the art world is changing and why you can use that to your advantage.
6 STEPS TO GETTING A JOB IN ART
1. Immerse yourself in the art world
If you want to get a job in art, you need to know your stuff. The art world isn’t what it used to be, so the good news is that you don’t necessarily need an Art History degree to get a job at a museum or gallery. However, it’s important that you have a good, all-round knowledge of the art world, and hopefully some specialisms in areas that really interest you.
Since you’ve already decided to make a career out of your love of art, chances are this comes naturally to you. So keep going to exhibitions, reading, creating, and learning at every opportunity. It’s important that you don’t do this in complete isolation. Going to exhibitions and events with a friend or two will allow you to build your confidence talking about art, and keep you open to different perspectives.
Other ways to immerse yourself in art
● Connect with local art groups and classes
● Listen to podcasts about art
● Use social media to discover new artists (if only there were a platform that let you do that…)
You could also consider taking courses in skills that might be relevant to a role in art. Some institutions, like Sotheby’s , offer online learning courses for people looking to establish a career in art. Consider more general, business-related skills too; if you’re applying for social media manager roles in galleries, it might help to do a graphic design or marketing course (check out sites like Udemy and Skillshare, which have lots of great, free resources).
2. Get experience
When you’re applying for a job in art, you’ll probably be up against people with very similar profiles to you. What’s going to set you apart?
No matter how great your uni dissertation was, what employers really care about is finding someone who can hit the ground running. In any industry, the more work experience you have, the more hireable you are.
Rebecca Black, Social Media Editor at The Royal Opera House, reminds us that this experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in the arts. After graduating from university with a History of Art degree, Rebecca struggled to find a position in the art world. She ended up falling into a role at a vintage and antique furniture startup, where she discovered a knack for social media. This eventually landed her a role at a globally renowned institution.
“I think it’s much more important to develop skills in a specific area than it is to have general experience in the arts. When I had my interview it was obvious from my CV that I was passionate about the arts, but that alone wouldn’t have landed me the job. I got the job because I knew about social media rather than because I knew about opera and ballet (I knew very little about it!). Having experience in other sectors is really valuable as long as you can prove why you want to work in the arts,” she says.
There are, of course, opportunities to gain experience directly in the art world, although being able to do an unpaid internship is a luxury that not everyone can afford. Fortunately, museums and galleries like Tate are starting to create more structured, paid internship programmes to support young talent. It’s also worth exploring voluntary positions if you’re struggling to find paid work. Giving just a few hours of your time each week to a credible museum or gallery adds up in the long run.
Internships and work experience are a great way to try different things and get a sense where you want to go in your career. Which brings us onto our next point…
3. Think about who you are and what you want to do
As we’ve seen from Rebecca’s experience, working in the arts doesn’t necessarily mean being a dealer or collector. There are tonnes of roles to choose from, especially as the world gets increasingly digital : you could work in events, software development, social media, education—the list goes on! Think about what skills you have and what motivates you.
It’s also important to consider your personality type and style of working. If you thrive in a more structured environment and like direction, perhaps you’d be better suited to a big, established museum or gallery. If you’ve got more of an entrepreneurial spirit and prefer doing things under your own steam, you might prefer a smaller gallery, startup or even freelance work.
Yasmin Hemmings, Schools Engagement Manager at the Barbican Centre, encourages anyone looking for a job in the arts to take some time thinking about which area they’d like to work in and why: “Make sure this translates when applying for a job. When writing a cover letter be specific about why you want to work for the organisation you’re applying for – for example, mention a specific programme the organisation runs which you would be interested in working on, and explain why. It shows that you’ve done your research, and can identify how your skills would make you suited to a particular role.”
4. Start a side project
If you’re struggling to find work experience and internships, let alone a full-time job, there are other ways to enhance your CV. Having a side project allows you to not only pursue your interests and develop new skills, but it can also put you a cut above other candidates. You never know, it could develop into a fully-fledged business, so that you don’t even need a job!
For example, you could start a blog or social media community on an arts-related topic. Pick something that you feel passionate about or that is under-represented in the art world. If you’re artistically inclined yourself, you could sell your own work —this will give you a great understanding of how commercial art works.
Doing something novel and unusual is a great way to prove yourself and catch the attention of an employer.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. It’s a cliché, but annoyingly true.
The art world has historically been steeped in elitism, meaning jobs were hard to come by if you didn’t move in the right circles or have contacts on the inside. Luckily, things are changing, and art institutions are making conscious efforts to eradicate nepotism and diversify their hiring.
However, it’s still really helpful to forge relationships with people who can help you and teach you. “Networking” is a cringe-inducing term, but it can make the world of difference to your career. Building a list of contacts and making yourself known to the right people can give you a head start in applying for jobs—and if you get good at networking, you’ll be actively sought out by employers.
Yasmin recommends joining Young People in the Arts (YPIA), a volunteer-run networking organisation for professionals at the start of their careers in the arts.
“ I have been a member of the YPIA committee since 2016, starting off as an Assistant Project Manager and progressing to Project Manager before becoming Director of Planning in 2018. Being part of the committee allowed me to build my event planning skills at a time when I wasn’t able to do this through my job, and over the years I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of other like-minded people at a similar career stage, across all sectors of the arts.”
If you feel shy approaching people at events, social media is your friend! (In the least stalkerish way possible), find people who have already got to where you want to be in your career, and ask if they’d mind sharing any advice.
Rebecca advises “looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people with jobs that interest you to see how they got there and even reach out for advice. Most people are flattered to be asked and are happy to offer advice or assistance!”
You could also find a mentor, either informally if there is someone you really gel with, or through a dedicated mentorship programme.
Truly successful people question rules and challenge the status quo. That’s not to say that you should walk into the first day of your internship and demand to rearrange the whole gallery! You need to learn the system and earn respect before you’ll be in a position to start making changes. However, it’s good to think about your long-term goals and the legacy you want to leave.
For Yasmin, this is particularly pressing in a time of economic uncertainty. While COVID-19 will affect hiring in the arts, Yasmin also thinks that “ it’s an opportunity for arts organisations to re-evaluate their structures, which may well bring about some positive changes…we are seeing the beginning of an active commitment from arts organisations to remove institutional barriers and increase ethnic minority, and particularly Black, representation across the workforce.”
In her book, This Is What I Know About Art, writer and curator Kimberly Drew talks about how she was inspired by a tour given by the Met’s chairman of education, Sandra Jackson-Dumont: “Meeting Sandra helped me answer some of the lingering questions I had about working at the Met and working in the arts in general. She helped me keep sight of the fact that I could set my own benchmarks and expect accountability. She assured everyone on the tour that we don’t have to subscribe to anyone else’s idea of success.”
So, once you’ve broken into the art world, ask yourself this: what do you want to change about it?