|English and Related Literature|
|English and Related Literature|
|Assistant Curator of Fine Art|
|National Museums Liverpool|
|Library, museum and information services|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
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A day in the life of a Assistant Curator of Fine Art in the United Kingdom
The sector needs change and innovation; show up with creative, ambitious ideas and make it clear why you're the person to do them.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
I work for a large museum service with eight different museums across the city region. We are a national museum service with an important local outlook, covering everything from fine art to maritime history.
What do you do?
I work in the Fine Art department, providing curatorial support to our three art galleries. Day to day this ranges from writing gallery labels, to updating the catalogue, to doing research into our world class collections, to checking for leaks in the stores. It's important to have excellent attention to detail, to be open and honest with the public and to be flexible and responsive to change - you never know when there will be a sudden request for information on that artwork tucked away in the corner of the basement store!
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
I've been working in the museum sector for the last six years. Towards the end of my undergraduate degree I spotted a traineeship based at a literary museum in the Lake District - I was writing my dissertation on the poet in question and I thought it seem like a pretty good way to spend a year. After graduating I dossed around for six months doing retail work and volunteering at a local museum, pinning all my hopes on this one opportunity. Thank goodness I got it. That year in the Lake District turned me into a curator. Once that was done, I had a few more months in retail and volunteering until I got my first full time job as collections assistant in another literary museum. At the same time I did a distance learning MA in museum studies, although I think having a job was more beneficial to my learning than the MA.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
I don't remember knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated. I'm not surprised this is where I've ended up - I've always visited museums, I stuck to what I was interested in, and I used what I had researched at university to take me there.
Describe your most memorable day at work
The first day I installed a display in the art gallery where I now work - I'd worked there about six months and I've dreamed of getting my words on the wall next to a painting for a long time in my career. It was so exciting to bring the plans to fruition and see my hard work available for the public to engage with and learn something new.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
I was chair of Outdoor Society so that definitely helped with organisation and being able to work successfully with a team. I also briefly set up a creative writing society (I am sure there is a much better established one now) which I suppose showed my desire to hone my writing skills and I do use these every day. I also volunteered for two years at one of the Oxfam bookshops in town, which gave me good practice for more volunteering in the museum sector, but also meant I soon got used to interacting with lots of different people, growing in confidence and feeling like a part of a community.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
I'll be honest - it's hard out there. Museums and galleries have limited jobs available and there are countless talented people who struggle to find work. It doesn't pay well and it is not a sector representative of the wider population. I think you have to be pretty tough to even get your foot in the door. Try not to take things personally. Work hard but don't let yourself be exploited. If you see something that needs changing, speak up or change it yourself. The sector needs change and innovation; show up with creative, ambitious ideas and make it clear why you're the person to do them. Identify exactly what skills you need to develop and develop them however you can. It doesn't have to be in a museum. One of the most impressive candidates I've ever interviewed was skillful at showing how the experience from her paid work outside the sector could be usefully applied to roles in the sector.
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
curation; history of art; literature; writing; museums; audience participation; research
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