A museum/gallery exhibitions officer is responsible for planning, developing, organising, marketing, administering, producing, buying/sourcing and maintaining individual permanent or travelling exhibitions.

The role involves a large amount of project management.

The actual work depends on the setting. In larger museums and galleries, exhibitions officers may be specialists working alongside a team of curatorial, educational and marketing professionals.

In smaller galleries and museums, the role may include direct involvement in a wide 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

Depending on the setting, the work of a museum/gallery exhibitions officer may include some or all of the following:

  • planning programmes of special and permanent exhibitions according to visitor needs, alongside the curator;
  • sourcing exhibits;
  • writing draft proposals;
  • researching artists and selecting work;
  • securing loans for exhibitions from chosen artists;
  • working with curators to plan a long-term strategy for exhibitions;
  • fundraising for projects;
  • liaising with schools and local community groups;
  • coordinating liaisons between subject specialists and designers;
  • creating and monitoring production and installation schedules for exhibitions;
  • ensuring installation deadlines are met;
  • drawing up and managing exhibition budgets;
  • negotiating and agreeing conditions of loans with lenders;
  • arranging transport, insurance and security;
  • assisting with installation, including the packing, loading, hanging and framing of exhibits;
  • working with other staff, such as conservators, archivists and technicians, on the promotion and interpretation of exhibitions;
  • writing or commenting on story boards and labels;
  • contributing to programmes of events that aim to encourage broader audiences, including educational events;
  • involvement in media work such as talking to art critics;
  • assisting with the production and launch of publicity material and displays;
  • creating web-based information and resources;
  • coordinating the production of exhibition catalogues and related publications;
  • contributing 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

  • Salaries for museum/gallery exhibition officers tend to start in the range of £19,000 to £25,000.
  • At a senior level or with substantial experience salaries can progress to £27,000 to £40,000.

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

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

What to expect

  • Working hours typically include regular weekend work and unsocial hours.
  • Museum staff may be based in a single museum or centrally to cover a variety of local venues. In either case, local travel to meetings and exhibitions is quite common.
  • Work is carried out in exhibition areas, offices and any other available space.
  • Career breaks, job share and part-time work are possible.
  • A high proportion of exhibition officers are women.
  • The level of stress depends on the particular environment and schedule deadlines.
  • The majority of jobs are in towns and cities, which house larger museums, but specialist museums can also be found in smaller towns and rural areas.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent but absence from home overnight is uncommon.
  • There may be occasional opportunities for work and travel overseas, usually for research purposes.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, if you want to specialise in a particular area, it may help to have a relevant degree. Examples are:

  • 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 enthusiasm, a current awareness of trends in the field, and relevant work experience. Some posts will stipulate relevance to the collection, for example art history, history or some aspect of design.

A good honours degree is generally the minimum academic entry requirement. Entry is not usually possible with a HND only. However, non-graduate entry may be possible through a cultural heritage apprenticeship; for further details see the government guidance on apprenticeships.

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. For details of relevant postgraduate courses, see the Museums Association (MA).

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 and innovative approach to interpretation;
  • good communication skills;
  • excellent organisational, time and project management skills;
  • teamworking abilities;
  • a genuine interest in artefacts, art or other cultural material.

The Museums Association (MA) lists national and international organisations, which may be useful for identifying international experience. Competition for jobs is very keen, even for unpaid volunteer posts.

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.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is essential, which can be gained through volunteering and internships. Work experience helps to build the necessary practical skills and an 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.

The following may be useful for finding details of internships and volunteer programmes:

When applying for work experience, it is 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.

Consider making a speculative application if you cannot find any specific vacancies. If you decide to do this, you need to do your research to ensure that your letter reaches the right person and to make sure that the skills and experience you are offering are as relevant as possible for that particular organisation.

The Museums Association (MA) lists national and international organisations, which may be useful for identifying international experience. Competition for jobs is very keen, even for unpaid volunteer posts.

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.

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;
  • a university gallery or museum with a teaching role, which may be part of an academic institution;
  • an independent organisation, 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.

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Professional development

The training body for museums, galleries and heritage organisations in the UK is Creative and Cultural Skills. It is the validation body for courses across the sector. Training provision includes short courses, offered by a variety of providers.

Training opportunities including conferences, exhibitions, workshops and seminars are offered by the Museums Association (MA). It also encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and provides a range of schemes to support this.

One of these schemes is Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA). It can take you around two to three years to achieve this and you may register for it if you are involved in any area of museum work. This can be working full or part time, volunteering or working on a temporary basis.

To qualify, you will need to have worked in museums for a minimum of three years by the time you get to the end the AMA.

The MA also has a scheme called CPD Plus which supports you through your CPD each year. It recommends how many hours of CPD to carry out annually and helps with recording all of your activities. At the end of each year you can submit your record to the MA and may receive a certificate for it.

Career prospects

Promotion prospects within a particular museum service can be limited, so it may be necessary 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 is 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 exhibitions 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. There has been a trend for some senior management posts to be filled from outside the museum sector and this is the case for most commercial and service management posts.

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).