Commercial art galleries vary in style, size and purpose, and because of this, the role of a gallery manager can differ. The role can change depending on whether you work in a public or private gallery.
In a public gallery, the role can be quite technical and involves making sure exhibitions are installed correctly. It may also cover operational tasks such as health and safety and facilities.
Managers in smaller private galleries may have a more varied and all-round role, which includes sales, marketing, budgeting and communicating directly with the artists.
An art gallery manager may work underneath the gallery director or owner but will still have responsibility for the commercial and artistic success of the gallery.
Day-to-day tasks will vary depending on the type and size of gallery but, in general, they can include:
- ensuring the smooth running of the gallery;
- developing and maintaining the gallery's remit;
- maintaining ongoing promotion and advertising of the gallery;
- assessment and selection of artwork;
- overseeing the type of artwork sold;
- planning, organising, presenting and marketing exhibitions and shows, including responsibility for public relations;
- working closely with individual artists, developing relationships with new artists, and extending relationships with established artists from the gallery 'stable';promoting exhibitions and work by individual artists;
- curating shows in cooperation with artists and technicians;
- arranging transportation of work to and from the gallery, both nationally and internationally;
- organising equipment hire and ensuring correct installation of the artwork;
- negotiating with gallery managers and curators from other galleries to arrange for loans;
- keeping front-of-house staff briefed on technical and artistic matters relating to programming;
- developing client lists by notifying potential clients of particular works and exhibitions, according to their stated interests;
- extending the client database;
- liaising with visiting artists and negotiating sales;
- cataloguing acquisitions and keeping records and archives;
- developing and updating the gallery website;
- promoting and selling artists' work, through both exhibitions and personal contacts;
- keeping up to date with industry developments and market trends;
- general administration, budgeting, finance and accounts.
- You may need to enter this career at a lower level in order to gain experience. If this is the case, you could be working in the role of art consultant, where starting salaries can be around £15,000 to £19,000, plus a sales-related bonus.
- Progression to art gallery sales manager can result in salaries in the region of £25,000 to £35,000, plus a sales-related bonus.
- At art gallery manager level, you can expect to earn £35,000 to £40,000 upwards.
Salaries for art gallery staff can range widely depending on the size, location and type of gallery.
Managers running their own gallery may earn a very low salary in the first years of setting up their business.
Some galleries pay commission for sales in addition to paying a salary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are linked to gallery opening hours, which are typically 10am to 5.30/6pm during the week, with a shorter working day on Saturday. However, flexibility is essential as the working day rarely finishes when the gallery closes. For example, if the gallery is preparing for an exhibition, the day finishes when the exhibition is ready. Some galleries are only open for part of the week.
What to expect
- Galleries are often staffed by small teams, which can make for a friendly and informal working environment. Some gallery managers work as sole traders.
- Many of the big galleries are based in London. Some galleries have offices in regional centres in the UK, as well as internationally. In Scotland, for example, there is a growing and respected gallery sector with an international outlook. Smaller independent galleries are spread throughout the UK.
- There is the possibility of travel, both nationally and internationally, supervising touring exhibitions, attending art fairs and auctions and promoting gallery activities and events.
This area of work is open to all graduates, but the following degree subjects are particularly useful:
- art history/history of art;
- arts management;
- business studies;
- fine art/visual art;
- modern languages.
For those aiming to manage contemporary art spaces, a good knowledge of the current art scene is essential.
Entry without a degree may be possible, but it is unlikely unless you can demonstrate significant relevant work experience or specialised knowledge.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, such as an MA in a related subject, e.g. art history or visual culture, can be useful, but still needs to be supported by relevant practical experience.
You will need to show:
- excellent organisational ability;
- strong written and oral communication skills;
- the ability and confidence to deal with a range of people;
- sales ability and commercial awareness;
- experience of management accounting and financial negotiating;
- a flexible and practical approach;
- teamworking skills and the ability to lead and motivate a team;
- a genuine interest in and enthusiasm for art;
- creative flair;
- physical stamina for organising and setting up exhibitions.
Strong administrative skills are a huge advantage and smaller galleries are likely to favour candidates with IT skills, as well as specialist knowledge and the skills listed above. Knowledge of Photoshop, database management, social media and mailings may also be useful.
Pre-entry work experience is highly desirable. Paid employment for new graduates is unlikely without evidence of experience.
Experience can be gained through internships or work experience. Relevant internships are highly competitive but give excellent training and a good background to gallery work. Practical skills, such as a good knowledge of European languages, IT or DIY (for installing exhibitions), as well as sales skills, can be particularly beneficial when applying for internships.
Commercial art galleries range in size enormously, from one-person outfits to large international organisations. Contemporary art galleries can have a short life span and small galleries can also come and go, often depending on the economic climate.
The market includes small, regionally-based commercial galleries and artist-led spaces. These may receive some public funding while also relying on a commercial element.
Commercial galleries vary widely and include those that specialise in one or a number of the following areas:
- prints and drawings;
Traditional galleries tend to sell photographs, prints and paintings. Other, more modern galleries buy and sell contemporary art.
Look for job vacancies at:
- a-n: The Artists Information Company
- Art Monthly
- Art Review
- Museums Journal
- National Museum Directors Council Jobs
- National press.
- Websites of major galleries.
Vacancies may also be advertised through specialist agencies such as:
The art market continues to diversify to include more regional artist-led spaces with a variety of different types of galleries. Despite this, spending some time in a gallery in London or another large city may be necessary for managers to widen their job opportunities.
Competition is intense and staff turnover is low. Many jobs are never advertised but are filled through word of mouth, selective networking or speculative applications.
You should target galleries that interest you and tailor your applications. Visiting galleries in person with a well-written, targeted CV can be helpful. Attending art fairs is highly recommended, as is registering with gallery mailing lists and attending shows and private viewings.
Applying for secretarial or PA work can occasionally be a sideways route into gallery management.
Training is mainly on the job and may include shadowing other managers or more experienced colleagues to gain skills related to dealing with artists and clients, framing pictures or installing exhibitions, as well as studying to gain administrative or secretarial skills.
Although many gallery managers have no formal training beyond their degree, a number of relevant postgraduate qualification courses are available. These vary widely, from courses with a focus on art gallery management to those with a broader approach to museums and galleries.
Courses in arts policy and arts management may be useful for existing arts managers. Postgraduate courses are also available in curating and art curating, such as the one run by the National Gallery .
Before applying for a course, it is important to check that it is relevant to your own particular career interests.
Those working in the more traditional commercial galleries may also be interested in courses run by the large auction houses, for example:
Career development in this field can be a challenging process and difficult to secure. In smaller galleries, opportunities for progression are limited, as vacancies rarely arise.
Even in the larger and longer established galleries, there is very little movement as people tend to stay with one company for long periods. It may be possible to move to a larger gallery once experience has been gained in smaller galleries.
In general, there is no formal career pathway because of the limited career structure and lack of security in the profession.
However, career development in larger galleries is more clearly defined. There is a lot more scope to specialise in a particular field of art, or to move into the marketing and sales side of the gallery.
Relocating to a different area can be helpful for career progression as many of the large commercial art galleries are in London. Building up a network of contacts can also help with career development.
Gaining more responsibility and earning more money for the gallery through selling work is one way of increasing your role and earning potential. With experience, business knowledge and a network of contacts, it may be possible to set up and run your own art gallery.
Gallery managers with specialist knowledge of a particular area, e.g. paintings, and a network of appropriate contacts may occasionally become antiques dealers, buying and selling art. To get started as a dealer, considerable capital is needed. Work experience with an established company is recommended.