Three York History of Art graduates joined us by video call during the lockdown to tell us what they do and how they got there, and give some advice and top tips for current students pursuing careers in arts and heritage. Here’s what we learned. You can watch the full video below.
In the early stages of her career, Anna Salaman, now a cultural heritage learning consultant, created opportunities for herself by contacting and following up heads of departments in arts institutions:
“I located about 13 museums that had education departments. I found out the names of the heads of the departments by calling them up and just asking, then I wrote letters, because that’s what you did back then, named to those people, and I simply asked for meetings. I didn’t ask for volunteer work. I just said, ‘can I possibly meet you for half an hour maximum.’
“About 80% or so came back to me saying yes… they didn’t all come back to me immediately. I had to do some follow-up phone calls, so it really was like a little job in itself, to pursue this particular goal of mine.”
Laura Moseley, founder of the Made by Women zine, has networking to thank for getting her zines into the Tate bookshop.
She was followed on Instagram by someone who worked at Tate Commerce, who then showed the zines to the Tate book buyer. After some early conversations it went cold:
“I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks and I thought, ‘I can’t let this opportunity slip,’ so I… sent off an email saying, ‘look, I’d love to send you a few samples for you to have a flick through, and any feedback would be appreciated.
“He got back to me and said, ‘these are amazing, I love them, I would love to stock them.’ One thing led to another; it took about four or five months for the whole process to end.”
Start with volunteering
You hear this a lot, but volunteering is still considered essential to get into the sector.
Uthra Rajgopal, Assistant Curator at the Whitworth, landed a funded research post from a volunteering opportunity:
“I started by volunteering at the Museum of London and I got to work with a 1950s corset collection, and out of that I became so interested in that part of the collection that I was offered the opportunity to give a presentation to the Friends of the Museum of London… and then I was lucky enough to get a funded exhibition research post through the Harris Museum.”
Anna used volunteering to learn which area of museum work suited her:
“I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Victoria & Albert Museum… in the sculpture collection. I realised quite quickly that collections work didn’t suit me, my preferences, my temperament, my skills and experience. It was very focused, very granular work and very detailed, too detailed for me. But what I did realise was that there was something called an education department in museums… and that was an epiphany for me.”
Remember, like in any sector, volunteering roles should be appropriate and non exploitative. In other words, you shouldn’t be doing a job for free that should be paid. The Museums Association has advice on volunteering.
Make the most of resources at university
Don’t leave it too late to take advantage of the opportunities available to you while you’re studying. Laura has experience of this. At university she won the York Business Challenge run by our Enterprise team:
“Whilst you’re at university take advantage of that, and exploit any resources that you have available to you. Go to the careers service, look at the funding opportunities available, and don’t think that your idea isn’t good enough – just go for it.”
Don’t worry about finding permanent roles
Uthra reiterated what we’ve been hearing a lot – that the majority of jobs in museums are now fixed term:
‘It’s very competitive. There aren’t many permanent roles in museums and galleries. The reality is that most people are on fixed term contract positions, so don’t worry about that, just take the job in hand. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a paid job, just do it.”
Don’t let that put you off. It’s just the reality of the sector right now. Instead, think about what this means for your career. Do you have the flexibility and willingness to move jobs a lot?