Museums and heritage
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Careers in the museum and heritage sector can be rewarding and challenging. Many people aspire to be museum curators but the opportunities open to graduates are wide-ranging; for example, conservation, education and outreach, exhibition design, archaeology and archives are just a few of the areas you could work in. And, spurred on by the effects of the pandemic, graduates in this sector are increasingly expected to be able to use digital technology to engage audiences, digitise collections, market venues and analyse audience needs.
There are many more roles, including in general areas like marketing, finance, HR, technology and hospitality. Employers are also varied and include museums, galleries, charities, national bodies, private consultancy firms, arts organisations, conservation organisations and heritage tourism.
In recent years fixed-term contracts have become common, meaning more people are working for multiple organisations and changing jobs frequently, rather than working in a permanent job for a single organisation.
Despite comparatively lower pay than some sectors, competition for roles is high, so gaining work experience – often through volunteering – to develop your CV should be a priority.
What you need to know
Find out about museums and heritage
Just starting your research into museums and heritage? Start by looking at:
Do I need a specific degree?
Generally speaking, no. It’s more important to be able to show your interest in the sector through your work experience and interests.
Some roles – especially curatorial and more academic roles – may require degrees in relevant areas, and possibly further qualifications to demonstrate your academic ability and knowledge. Some careers, like in archaeology, conservation and archives, will usually require specific qualifications.
Some students may choose to study a postgraduate qualification in museum studies; this can be a way of developing your career but it’s no guarantee of a job. It can often be better to prioritise work experience. Read more about museum postgraduate degrees from the Museums Association.
Some graduates enter the industry by starting in an administrative or entry-level position (e.g. Front of House or Visitor Guide) and working their way up as they gain experience.
You could also make a career combining arts and law. Find out more about this in our information sheet: Art and Law (PDF , 566kb)
What skills do I need?
As there are so many different roles in the sector, it’s important to think about what skills you have and identify which activities appeal to you most. For example, do you want a job working with the public, involving lots of variety or would you prefer to work mainly with other heritage professionals building up specialist knowledge in one particular field? Do you prefer ‘hands-on’ practical work or theoretical research? Do you like lots of responsibility and advising others or do you prefer to carry out a project working to a set brief?
The skills you’ll be expected to have will depend on your specific role, but you’ll likely need to demonstrate:
- enthusiasm for and knowledge of your subject area
- good communication
- organisational and planning skills
- creative thinking and problem solving
- political and commercial awareness, in light of current debates around decolonising collections and the ethics of museum sponsorship and funding
- data skills, including interpreting, analysing and reporting
- digital skills, including video editing, web editing, social media and an understanding of the potential of areas like virtual reality, augmented reality, gamification and AI
- entrepreneurship and adaptability, to thrive in a sector with a lot of fixed term contracts.
Volunteering is the most common way to get work experience in the sector, but there are some formal placements (usually aimed at graduates). You can also get valuable work experience in university by getting involved in societies and, depending on your subject, via your studies.
- Volunteering roles in museums and the arts are advertised each term on Handshake, University of Leicester Museum Studies Jobs Board and through volunteering websites like Do-it.
- Many volunteer opportunities are advertised directly with museums and heritage organisations. You may also see trustee positions advertised - do not be put off applying for these because of a lack of experience; many organisations are keen to get new perspectives on their committees.
- Use your networking skills to reach out to arts and heritage organisations for job shadowing and unadvertised volunteering opportunities.
- Join relevant societies to meet students with similar interests, hear from industry professionals at speaker events, participate in debates and go on arts and heritage related visits. Stand for a committee position to build your soft skills like communication, organisation and problem solving.
- Look for paid internships – keep an eye out for internships directly focused on museums and heritage or others which will give you transferable skills (like marketing, research or digital engagement).
In a sector where volunteering and unpaid work experience is so common, some have raised concerns about the exploitation of workers and the barriers that unpaid work experience puts on entry to the profession. Read more about this on the Fair Museum Jobs blog and on the Arts Jobs website.
Jobs are advertised on sector-specific websites like:
Jobs are also advertised directly on museum websites. You will also find relevant vacancies on Handshake, LinkedIn and job vacancy aggregator sites like Indeed.
Many opportunities will be advertised informally on social media. Try searching the #ArtsJobs and #MuseumJobs hashtags on Twitter.
What can I do at York?
- Apply for relevant internships advertised through the Student Internship Bureau.
- Join relevant societies, take part in events and run for committee positions. Try History of Art Society, Archaeology Society, History Society and Art Society.
- Get involved with Norman Rea Gallery (above The Courtyard), a university art space run by students, hosting exhibitions and promoting the work of both students and professional artists throughout term-time all year round. Members of the group act as director, vice director and curators, running everything from publicity to painting. The group welcomes new students from any department each academic year and is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience whilst studying.
- Start volunteering if you can. Vacancies are advertised each term on Handshake, and via your college and YUSU. You can also apply to museums and heritage organisations directly. You’ll find a list of some local and national organisations further down this page.
- Build your network by attending events, contacting York graduates on York Profiles & Mentors and making the most of social media
More resources: articles, podcasts, networks and people to follow
Useful links and accounts to follow
Keep up to date with the sector by following these organisations and reading these useful links. Some of these organisations offer volunteering opportunities.
Connect with York graduates on York Profiles & Mentors
Find the full list of graduate profiles on York Profiles & Mentors.
Learn about digital skills in the sector
Find out more about how museums and heritage organisations are adapting to the pandemic, and the need for digital skills in the sector:
Peer support networks
Social media accounts
Organisations to follow
- York Museums Trust: York St Mary’s, York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery, Yorkshire Museum, York Museum Gardens: offer a variety of on-going volunteering projects in both term time and vacations (click Support the Trust – Volunteering).
- York Archaeological Trust: runs, Archeritage, Northlight Heritage, Trent & Peak Archaeology and a heritage consultancy service. YAT is able to offer students voluntary work experience in: collection care; finds, curation, documentation.
- The Jorvik Group is the heritage tourism branch of YAT and runs JORVIK, DIG, Barley Hall, Richard the III and Henry VII Experience. They also offer on-going volunteering opportunities and placements at each of their heritage tourism sites. Opportunities include: marketing; events; education; front of house activities. Check out Jorvik volunteers and Jorvik placements.
- Fairfax House is a Georgian town house in York displaying an extensive collection of English eighteenth-century furniture. It is a perfect time capsule of life in a Georgian town house. Volunteering opportunities at Fairfax House include: room host; administration; conservation; tour guide; events; marketing; costumed work (click Support Us - Volunteer).
- Yorkshire Sculpture Park seeks to provide a centre of international, national and regional importance for the production, exhibition and appreciation of modern and contemporary sculpture. To volunteer, contact email@example.com.
- Portable Antiquities Scheme is run by the British Museum and National Museum Wales to encourage the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. They may have regional volunteering opportunities, and you can make a speculative application for work experience with the regional Finds Liaison Officer, Rebecca Griffiths, based at York Museum Gardens Rebecca.Griffiths@ymt.org.uk.
- National Trust is a conservation charity which works to preserve and protect historic places and spaces. They offer volunteering work experience and internships, as well as a three year graduate scheme (an interest in environment as well as heritage is useful for this). See National Trust volunteers and National Trust curatorship.
- Association for Art History: Consider joining to get access to fellowship and grant opportunities, training and other resources and read their insights including ‘Art History and Me’ feature to gain a deeper insight into different career roles within this sector (scroll down to find these articles).
- V&A Museum: offers work experience, volunteering and internships in different departments. See their placements information.
- British Archaeological Jobs and Resources (BAJR): search for jobs and volunteering opportunities in the UK and abroad.
- Past Horizons promotes archaeology volunteering opportunities worldwide and has videos and articles about archaeology projects.
- Royal Collection Trust (including all palaces, residences, art collections) offer volunteering roles, summer jobs, student placements and paid internships to graduates, including roles in art collection, library, marketing & HR. To view more vacancies visit www.royal.uk (click on Working for us).
- English Heritage is an independent charity responsible for the national heritage collection. They offer a variety of volunteering opportunities. See their volunteering opportunities.
- Historic England champions the nation's wider heritage, running the listing system, dealing with planning matters and giving grants. They offer volunteering within their own organisation and also advertise opportunities with other heritage organisations. See the volunteering opportunities.
- ICON (Institute of Conservation) ICON internships help to bridge the gap between training and first job for new conservation graduates.
- ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage. Internships in Rome or UAE are offered to those interested in increasing their experience of current issues of heritage preservation at the international level.
- Heritage Futures has a Heritage Careers Guide listing places to check for vacancies in the heritage sector.
- Heritage Lottery Fund: useful for background research on projects in your area, to help identify possible work/volunteering opportunities.
- Chartered Institute for Archaeologists is the professional association for all archaeologists, useful for careers information, job search and other member benefits.
- Museums Association is the professional organisation for heritage workers. Offers training and conferences, good job search facility and careers information.
- The British Museum was the first national public museum in the world and offers volunteering as well as a number of fellowships and volunteering opportunities. They manage the Museum Futures training programme, a nationwide programme with museum partners across the UK, offering a full-time traineeship with bursary, working towards a Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage. Graduates with less than six months’ work experience in the sector may apply (January 2021 start).
- The National Archives collect and secure the future of the government record, from Shakespeare’s will to tweets from Downing Street, to preserve it for generations to come, making it as accessible and available as possible. They offer work experience and also bursaries for those wanting to train as archivists.
Keep up to date with the sector and learn about the types of jobs available with these podcasts.
- Relevant episodes of our What do you actually do!? Podcast:
- The C Word: a podcast about conservation and conservators.
- Cultural Peeps: a podcast about career pathways in museums, galleries, heritage and the wider cultural sector.
- For Arts’ Sake: people working in museums talk about their lives and jobs.
- Museums n’That: insights into life behind the scenes at Leeds Museums & Galleries.
- Cultural Enterprises Podcast: a podcast from the Cultural Enterprises Academy about the commercial side of running a museum or heritage organisation.
Find a full list of recent event recordings on the Presentations and talks page.
Recent Arts and Humanities sessions: