If you are creative, organised and have strong project management skills, museum/gallery exhibitions officer could be the career for you

As a museum/gallery exhibitions officer you'll be responsible for the planning, delivery and installation of individual permanent or travelling exhibitions.

In larger museums and galleries, you may work as a specialist alongside a team of curatorial, educational and marketing professionals. In smaller galleries and museums, however, you may be involved directly in a variety of activities, including fulfilling a curatorial role.

Specifically, an exhibitions officer may be involved in:

  • event organisation and operations
  • public relations (PR) and marketing
  • logistics
  • production of publications.

Responsibilities

As a museum/gallery exhibitions officer, you'll typically need to do some or all of the following:

  • plan programmes of special and permanent exhibitions according to visitor needs, alongside the curator
  • source exhibits, research artists and select work
  • secure loans for exhibitions from chosen artists
  • work with curators to plan a long-term strategy for exhibitions
  • write draft proposals to attract new projects and assess tenders
  • coordinate liaisons between subject specialists and designers
  • create and monitor production and installation schedules for exhibitions
  • assist with installation, including the packing, loading, hanging and framing of exhibits
  • draw up and manage exhibition budgets and fundraise for projects
  • negotiate and agree conditions of loans with lenders
  • arrange transport, insurance and security for exhibitions
  • work with other staff, such as lenders, conservators, archivists and technicians, on the promotion and interpretation of exhibitions
  • write or comment on story boards and labels
  • contribute to programmes of events that aim to encourage broader audiences, including educational events
  • get involved in media work such as talking to art critics
  • assist with the production and launch of exhibition catalogues, publicity material and displays
  • work with schools and local community groups
  • contribute to museum/gallery development, especially in the area of visitor services.

A large part of the role involves liaising with both internal and external staff and departments, including technical staff, artists, curators, contractors, conservators, departments such as education, finance, marketing and PR, and the museum shop.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for museum/gallery exhibition officers typically range from £19,000 to £25,000.
  • At a senior level, or with substantial experience, salaries can rise to between £27,000 and £40,000.

Salaries vary considerably between independent, local authority and national museums/galleries. Salaries for freelancers tend to be more variable.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include weekends, evenings and bank holidays to ensure exhibitions are ready for their scheduled opening date. Career breaks, job share and part-time work are possible.

What to expect

  • You may be based in a single museum or centrally to cover a range of local venues. In either case, local travel to meetings and to visit other touring exhibition sites is quite common.
  • Work is carried out in exhibition areas, offices and any other available space.
  • The majority of jobs are in towns and cities throughout the UK, which house larger museums, but specialist museums can also be found in smaller towns and rural areas.
  • Not all museums employ specialist staff and it can take a long time to become established in a permanent, salaried post. Short, fixed-term contracts are very common. Experience, contacts and reputation are all important.
  • There may be occasional opportunities for work and travel overseas, usually for research purposes.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates. However, if you want to specialise in a particular area, it may help to have a relevant degree, such as:

  • archaeology
  • archive and museum studies
  • art conservation
  • education
  • fashion and textile design
  • fine art/visual art
  • history
  • history of art
  • media studies
  • spatial design.

Specialising in one subject is not necessarily as important as relevant work experience, a current awareness of trends in the field and enthusiasm. However, some posts will stipulate relevance to the collection, for example a degree in art history or some aspect of design.

Although a good honours degree is generally the minimum academic entry requirement, non-graduate entry may be possible through a cultural heritage apprenticeship.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, such as an MA/Diploma in Museum Studies, is highly desirable. Entry for postgraduate courses is competitive and many students are self-financed. Search postgraduate courses.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a strong commitment to this field of work demonstrated by work experience
  • practical skills in setting up exhibitions
  • a lively, creative and innovative approach to interpretation
  • excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • organisation and management skills to get exhibitions ready on time
  • project management skills to manage the setting up of exhibitions
  • a customer-focused approach to work, always considering the needs of the visitor
  • team work skills for liaising with artists, curators, external contractors and conservators
  • a flexible approach to work to meet tight deadlines and undertake a range of activities
  • self-motivation and the ability to act on your own initiative
  • good IT skills
  • a genuine interest in artefacts, art or other cultural material.

If you're working with children and young people, you will need Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance. You will also need a full driving licence.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is essential, and can be gained through volunteering and internships. Work experience helps you build the necessary practical skills and develop awareness of visitor needs. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know people in the field. Ideally, aim for experience where you can help to mount an exhibition or work with visitor services.

When applying for work experience, it's worth considering smaller museums/galleries as they are more likely to provide a greater range of experience. Most museums and galleries take on volunteers and a number have formal paid internship schemes. For advice on applying for internships and volunteer programmes, see Museums Association (MA) - Careers.

Consider making speculative applications if you can't find any vacancies. You'll need to do your research to ensure that your letter reaches the right person and to make sure that the skills and experience you're offering are as relevant as possible for that particular organisation.

The MA lists national and international organisations, which may be useful for identifying international experience. Competition for jobs is keen, even for volunteer posts.

Employers

There are around 2,500 museums and galleries in the UK. These range from small, independent or specialist museums, which rely mainly on volunteers, to large national institutions, which employ large teams of specialist staff.

There are museums and art galleries in both the public and private sectors. They include:

  • national museums and galleries, which receive central government funding
  • municipal organisations, which may fall under the leisure or cultural services department of the local authority
  • university galleries or museums with a teaching role, which may be part of an academic institution
  • independent organisations, which may have a more commercial emphasis.

Sponsorship has become increasingly important across the sector. There has also been a growth in virtual museum sites.

Look for job vacancies at:

Jobs and internship opportunities may also be advertised on individual museum and gallery websites.

Professional development

You'll largely be responsible for your own professional development and will develop your skills and experience on the job. Training opportunities including conferences, exhibitions, workshops and seminars run by the MA and other organisations are advertised on the MA website.

To help with your professional development, the MA runs the Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA) award. With the support of a mentor and through structured professional development, you can develop jobs skills and core competencies needed for a successful career in museums.

It takes around two to three years to achieve the AMA, which is open to anyone involved in museum work. This can be working full or part time, volunteering or working on a temporary basis. To qualify, you'll need to have worked in museums for a minimum of three years by the time you get to the end of the AMA.

Advocacy and support for those working in the gallery and visual art education sector is available from membership organisation Engage (the National Association for Gallery Education).

Career prospects

You may start your career as an exhibitions assistant, taking on a lot of the general administration involved in setting up an exhibition. With experience, you can move on to a managerial role, dealing with designers and venues and getting more involved in meetings with curators and sponsors.

Promotion prospects within a particular museum service can be limited, so you may need to relocate to a different town or region to broaden your experience or gain management skills. The exceptions are for specialist staff whose work relates to a single museum collection, and those who are employed within large national museums and galleries.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in fixed-term contracts, which can vary from a matter of months to a five-year period. There's now a real need for museum staff to manage their own careers as there are less directly employed positions. This has also resulted in a greater number of exhibition officers working in a freelance and consultant capacity.

Staff may move between sectors, particularly at senior managerial or specialist technical level, or into the visual arts. Ongoing promotion is likely to be towards broader management roles, such as director of leisure or cultural services.