In her day-to-day work, Natasha proposes ideas for exhibitions for approval by the gallery’s management team.
I graduated with a history of art degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995. I then worked for a year as a volunteer at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham whilst funding myself working part-time as the slide librarian for the University of Birmingham. I then went on to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester where I graduated in 1997. My first job was exhibitions’ coordinator at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham before coming to Manchester in 2000.
I have always been passionate about art, and during my undergraduate degree, I realised that I wanted to work in this field. I was much more interested in working in a public setting, rather than the commercial art world. I also wanted to work on changing exhibitions rather than a collection, as there is so much variety. I enjoy the pressure and excitement of getting an exhibition open on time.
Getting a job in museums and galleries is very hard today because there are so many people graduating each year from museum studies courses. There are also relatively few starter jobs. The best way into this field is through volunteering (getting a foot in the door) and through a museum studies postgraduate course.
Through my degree, I learnt about the chronology of art history and how to recognise different stylistic periods. I also developed my skills in researching an artist and period. I still use these research skills, and my knowledge of art history helps me to recognise when artists are influenced by historic artists/movements.
My postgraduate course in museum studies taught me about the philosophy behind museums and the theory about collections management, interpretation, and education. However, I learnt the most in my first job when I started organising exhibitions, gaining valuable administration skills, and getting hands-on experience of installing artwork.
I couldn’t work as an art curator without having studied art history, and although the postgraduate museum studies course is not compulsory in the person specification for my job, most museum professionals have one of these postgraduate qualifications. You would be at a disadvantage if you didn’t have one.
In my day-to-day work, I propose ideas for exhibitions for approval by the gallery’s management team. I then meet the artist to talk about the exhibition. I plan a budget and get quotes for work, fundraise and work with the artist to decide exhibition content. I work with colleagues in education, fundraising and marketing to plan for the public events, sponsorship and key messages for the press release and print which is sent out by the gallery. I organise for the artwork to come to the gallery and be installed by our technicians and conservators as well as arrange for the artist to visit Manchester during this period to oversee it. I write the panels and labels for display. We hold a press launch, and I occasionally give interviews to journalists. Once the exhibition is open, I am responsible for any maintenance needed. After the exhibition, I arrange for the artwork to be sent back to the artist or on to another venue.
I love working in contemporary art as it is a constantly changing and expanding field. I love working with living artists and talking to them about their work (something you can’t do with Michelangelo). It is particularly exciting commissioning new work from an artist as you will be involved in the production of new artwork. Working with changing exhibitions means that there is huge variety. I also enjoy writing interpretation - for labels and panels - and trying to communicate the artist’s ideas to the general public. I enjoy travelling to see other exhibitions in the UK and abroad and finding artists’ work which would be suitable for our audiences. At times, exhibition installations can be stressful if arrangements fall through. However, that is all part of the job - coming up with solutions to problems. As public funding is limited, you often have to be creative with small pots of money. Salaries in the public sector are low, but I have high job satisfaction and would much rather be working in a field I love than working long hours in a large firm.
In terms of career progression, the next step would be to a head of exhibitions somewhere with greater responsibility for overseeing whole programmes.
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