Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Career Options - Museums and Galleries

I went off on a tangent about consultants yesterday and forgot that I was supposed to talk about career options!

OK, let's talk about those career options. As I stated earlier, when I began my MFA program, I thought that the only viable career option was to teach on the college level. But I discovered that museum and gallery careers are also available for people with studio MFAs.

Some schools offer classes or degree programs in museum studies. If you're serious about museum work, then museum studies or art history are definitely the way to go. But studio art is also a good career path, as long as you also have some experience that they're looking for...

Curators usually require art history, but often registrar and education positions will only require an MFA. A registrar is a person who sort of organizes and takes care of the artwork in a museum. When artwork is donated or purchased, they will document the condition of the artwork and enter the information into a database. A registrar will work with curators and preparators, deal with insurance, loan agreements, and shipping.

I spoke with a registrar that works at a major museum in the area and she said that she often has to travel with the artwork. If a really big expensive piece is shipped somewhere, she will ride in the truck with it. Well, not IN the truck, but in the cab with the truck driver.

Museum education positions will sometimes require a background in education, but not always. Sometimes they will want someone with museum or gallery experience along with an MFA.

How do I get experience?
The best way to get experience is to volunteer. Some museums and galleries have paid internships, but most of the time the positions will be unpaid. The unpaid positions at major museums can be competitive and prestigious. But a smaller museum, local art gallery, or community art center will most likely be excited to have you as a volunteer. Just be willing to work and you'll learn a lot.

I got a lot of gallery experience while I was in grad school. I worked as a grad assistant in the university art gallery. I worked with another student, unpacking and packing artwork, arranging shipping, buying supplies, installing artwork, patching walls, organizing receptions, and marketing shows.

My university also has a student gallery in the student union that is completely run by students. I volunteered at the gallery director for a year and a half. The students were responsible for installing, patching, marketing, and receptions. Many of them had never had their own shows, so to help them, I put together a packet of information on hanging artwork, writing press releases, reception checklists, and other tips.

I also help the local art group with their shows. I've volunteered as the exhibition chairperson on several shows. This usually involves a LOT of organizational and delegation skills.

One summer I volunteered as an intern at a contemporary art center. I helped out with research, marketing, and exhibit installation.

So if you try, it's pretty easy to get experience in museums and galleries. The big trick, though, is to network. The jobs are very competitive and it helps to know people, talk to people, and ask lots of questions!

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