To be a successful commercial art gallery manager you'll need a combination of artistic awareness, business acumen, interpersonal skills and practical abilities

As a commercial art gallery manager, you'll be responsible for the commercial and artistic success of the gallery. You'll have responsibility for the sales and marketing areas of running a commercial art gallery and will communicate directly with artists and dealers. You'll be involved in selecting art and artists to enhance the gallery's reputation and to bring in money from the sales of their artwork.

You may work underneath the gallery director or owner but will still have responsibility for the commercial and artistic success of the gallery.

Managers in smaller private galleries may have a more varied and all-round role.

Responsibilities

Day-to-day tasks vary depending on the type and size of gallery, but you'll typically need to:

  • ensure the smooth running of the gallery
  • develop and maintain the gallery's remit
  • maintain ongoing promotion and advertising of the gallery
  • assess and select artwork
  • oversee the type of artwork sold
  • plan, organise, present and market exhibitions and shows, including responsibility for public relations
  • work closely with individual artists, develop relationships with new artists, and extend relationships with established artists from the gallery 'stable'
  • promote exhibitions and work by individual artists
  • curate shows in cooperation with artists and technicians
  • arrange transportation of work to and from the gallery, both nationally and internationally
  • organise equipment hire and ensure correct installation of the artwork
  • negotiate with gallery managers and curators from other galleries to arrange for loans
  • develop client lists by notifying potential clients of particular works and exhibitions, according to their interests
  • extend the client database
  • liaise with visiting artists and negotiate sales
  • catalogue acquisitions and keep records and archives
  • develop and update the gallery website
  • promote and sell artists' work, through both exhibitions and personal contacts
  • keep up to date with industry developments and market trends
  • general administration, budgeting, finance and accounts.

Salary

  • You may need to start work at a lower level, for example gallery assistant, in order to gain experience. Salaries at this level can be around £16,000 to £19,000.
  • Gallery managers can earn in the region of £25,000 to £40,000, whereas salaries for gallery directors can be in excess of £60,000.
  • Galleries may pay commission/bonuses for sales of art work in addition to your salary, which can increase your earnings.

Salaries for art gallery staff vary 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.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are linked to gallery opening hours, which typically include Saturdays, although flexibility is essential as the working day rarely finishes when the gallery closes. For example, if you're 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, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Some galleries have offices in regional centres in the UK, as well as internationally. Smaller independent galleries are spread throughout the UK.
  • There may be opportunities to travel, both nationally and internationally, to supervise touring exhibitions, attend art fairs and auctions and promote gallery activities and events.

Qualifications

Although commercial gallery management is open to all graduates, the following degree subjects are particularly useful:

  • art history/history of art
  • arts management
  • business studies
  • fine art/visual art
  • marketing and sales
  • modern languages.

For those aiming to manage contemporary art spaces, a good knowledge of the current art scene is essential.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, for example an MA, in a subject such as art history or visual culture can be useful, but you still need to support this with relevant practical experience.

Entry without a degree may be possible, but is unlikely unless you can show significant relevant work experience or specialised knowledge.

Skills

You will need:

  • 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
  • administrative and IT skills
  • physical stamina for organising and setting up exhibitions.

Experience of Photoshop, database management, social media and mailings is also useful.

Work experience

You'll need relevant work experience or an internship to get a job as an art gallery manager. Gallery internships are highly competitive but give excellent training and a good background in gallery work. Make sure you highlight any practical skills you have, such as knowledge of other languages, IT or DIY (for installing exhibitions) when applying for internships. Experience in a sales and marketing environment is also useful.

Paid or voluntary work in roles such as gallery assistant or gallery associate is also an excellent way of getting experience and making contacts. You may also be able to get work in other areas of gallery management such as sales and exhibitions and then move into gallery management.

If making a speculative approach for work experience, target galleries that interest you and tailor your applications. Visiting galleries in person with a well-written, targeted CV can be helpful. Make sure you attend art fairs, register with gallery mailing lists, and attend shows and private viewings to show your interest and build your knowledge.

Employers

Commercial art galleries range in size from one-person outfits to large international organisations. Contemporary art galleries can have a short lifespan 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:

  • ceramics
  • jewellery
  • paintings
  • photography
  • prints and drawings
  • sculpture
  • textiles.

Look for job vacancies at:

The websites of major galleries also advertise jobs.

Specialist agencies such as Drummond Read and Sophie Macpherson also handle vacancies for gallery assistants and managers.

Competition is intense and staff turnover is low. Jobs may be filled through word of mouth, selective networking or speculative applications.

Professional development

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.

It's important to keep up to date with what's happening in the sector and with new artists and exhibitions relevant to your gallery by reading the trade press and networking.

If you don't already have a postgraduate qualification, you could consider taking a relevant MA in a subject with a focus on gallery and museum studies or on arts policy and arts management. Before applying, check that it's relevant to your own professional development needs.

Postgraduate courses are also available in curating and art curating. If you're working in a more traditional commercial gallery, you may be interested in courses run by the large auction houses such as Christie's Education and Sotheby's Institute of Art.

Career prospects

In general, there is no formal career pathway and career development can be challenging 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 you've got experience in smaller galleries.

However, career development in larger galleries is more clearly defined and there's more scope to specialise in a particular field of art. At gallery director level, you'll work at a strategic level, with responsibility for policy and the overall development and reputation of the gallery.

The art market continues to diversify to include more regional artist-led spaces with a variety of different types of galleries. However, relocating to a different area can be helpful for career progression as many of the large commercial art galleries are in major cities. Building up a network of contacts can also help with career development.

Gallery managers with specialist knowledge of a particular area and a network of contacts may occasionally become antiques dealers, buying and selling art. With experience, business knowledge and a network of contacts, it may be possible to set up and run your own art gallery.