Hear from our members

We asked some of our members how they started out in gallery education, and what skills or qualifications they have needed. They gave great advice for those considering a career in visual arts education. 

Hear about what their ‘typical’ days are like, what motivates them and what their main challenges are.

  • Photograph of Steven Roper
    Steven Roper — Primary School Coordinator, The Whitworth, Manchester

    I don’t think I’ve had the same day twice in all my six years here

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    I particularly enjoy the development of resources here at the gallery. From working alongside children to design guides connecting to current exhibitions and themes to collaborating with digital artists to commission a virtual gallery in Minecraft for users to build, shape and shift their own experiences. The process of learning that takes place during these projects are a huge bonus to the actual end outcome that helps younger audiences connect to our collections.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    elebrating the subject of arts, for the arts and not necessarily having to think alternatively to ways in which we can enhance other subjects simply by taking a creative approach. We do enjoy linking to areas such as science, literacy and local history but I crave the times where we have schools booking in with us due to current art thinking and planning back at their settings. Thinking outside the world of ‘art’ has helped us connect to many fascinating faculties and departments within the University of Manchester and from that, some truly thought provoking work has been delivered in recent years since our reopening and we’re grateful for new partnerships that have been formed.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    It really does vary but I would say a typical day would start with me meeting a practitioner in one of our gallery spaces in anticipation of an arriving school class. We have an array of talented artists who deliver workshops ranging from dance and movement to printmaking and I like to check in with them in the morning and support where necessary. From there we would hold meetings with curatorial teams to hear about any upcoming exhibitions, have planning talks with operation departments to ensure all equipment and booked spaces are in place and then spend the afternoon devising new programmes with external partners for the next terms. I don’t think I’ve had the same day twice in all my six years here at the Whitworth but that gives a general idea of a day to day.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    It was purely by chance. I worked at the Urbis in Manchester and was heavily into photography at the time. Like many before me in the arts creative sector, I did all I could to get into an organisation and worked on the gallery floors for a couple of years before approaching the learning team with an idea for a origami inspired worksheet for younger visitors. A short while after I was appointed Media and Exhibitions Learning Officer. It’s still a title that I adore to this day.

    I never set out to directly go into the world of learning. Through my creative work I happened to have an opportunity to have my work published and shared and that was a fantastic feeling. It was only after a year or so that I discovered the world of cultural education and the possibilities within it. A reason why I couldn’t think of a better place to be right now than the Whitworth and what a platform to be on in order to really make a change with local schools in Manchester. Grateful to have been given the chance in order to do so and feel very fortunate to have had supporting managers to allow me to express ideas and see them through.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    First and foremost whilst I don’t consider myself to be an artist, I do believe I’m creative and this approach helped me acquire a voice in this world. I studied ‘Design Studies’ as a BA at Salford University and that paved the way for having a career in the arts. My passion is actually graphic design and it’s steep learning curve sharing offices with colleagues who have backgrounds in art history. My guess would be that I started my role here with fresh eyes and a different perspective and was able to shape a new programme and modernise what was already a strong looking learning offer for schools. In my short career I’ve been a facilitator, officer, workshop leader, project manager and reps for various groups – it pays to be flexible!

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    Keep at it as it’s well worth it. It’s can be tough but if you’re passionate enough and willing to volunteer time and energy then you can get noticed. I was always taught, ‘don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution’ and this exact approach was what got me my first job in gallery education. I had seen the number of children enter our building and needing something hands on to help support their visit and experience. I could easily have received a ‘thank you for your time’ and seen the idea dismissed but I gave it a go and here I am today. The experiences and world that opens out in front of you in the arts can sometimes really take your breath away and to able to enjoy these with work colleagues you can count as friends – it’s a career path that I would encourage with anyone interested in visual arts.

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    Institutions and organisations approach work experience in their own ways that work for them. Here we have our very warm and amazing visitor team handle enquiries from people willing to gain skills in this field. We actually have a dedicated webpage for such applicants as well as a volunteer programme that has a dedicated team of people working in areas such as art garden management to helping and facilitating our collections centre. Only last week did we meet with two new additions to the Whitworth family who are on their first steps to working in this sector.

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    Helping to produce our ‘goodbye for now’ festival named the Whitworth Weekending in August 2013. The work involved was at such a pace I wasn’t accustomed too and I genuinely got a buzz from seeing all the hard work pay off when thousands of our local communities came into our park for a weekend of art, music and performance for all ages. I recall some build up nerves that became adrenaline fuelled, and quite frantic, energy levels that was a feat that I’ve not experienced since or doubt I ever will. It’s at times like these where you realise the importance of team work and the vision of our director, Maria Balshaw, helped create an atmosphere and excitement with visitors that was a perfect send off before the new Whitworth that opened two years later.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    Being an Engage rep simply allowed me the luxury of being able to stop and observe. I’m guilty of sometimes being trapped in a Manchester bubble and working for Engage enabled me to see further afield in the region at the great cultural education work that is being delivered around us. Throughout my time as an Engage rep, I always felt that I could switch off from my day job and enjoy the time spent making new contacts, establishing relationships with other organisations whilst developing skills such as presentation and finance management. Being able to visit such venues acted was, and still is, very therapeutic for me. I had a wonderful time as acting rep and I know for sure that the North West reps in place now have some really intriguing ideas upcoming for our members in this region.

  • Photograph of Mark Miller
    Mark Miller — Circuit Programme National Lead and Convenor: Young People’s Programmes, Tate Britain/Tate Modern

    My motivations for working with young people are based on social justice, equality of access to knowledge, resources and education for all. 

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    What I enjoy most is hearing and seen young people discuss, question and generate ideas related to connecting art to their wider cultural, social and political experiences. As well as this, seeing those ideas become real in an event based formats within gallery spaces and context, with audiences at the centre.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    The main challenge is time. Not enough time to do more research, critical thinking, and more conversations with colleagues at Tate and outside of Tate.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    Currently planning the dissemination of learning from Circuit national programme, as well as Tate Britain and Tate Modern projects, therefore communication range from nation and strategic direction, to specific Tate projects for young people. So, a day would include, check calendar deadlines, priority emails and meetings, first thing in the morning. Meetings with teams to update on structure, content and key messages of publication. Reading contribution to Circuit publication by Circuit partners and evaluation team. Meeting with Tate Schools and teachers team to plan a cross team week long collaboration for the Tate Exchange programme. We will budgets, which artists, timeline for delivery, roles and responsibilities across teams. Meet Circuit manager to plan and structure the Circuit programme final report.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    It was never an ambition of mine to work in galleries. I had worked with young people in a youth work education setting for several years, as well as being a visual artist. I didn’t realise galleries had education/learning departments, or teams, until I was introduced via the Inter Gallery Education course, led by Alana Jelenik. I heard about the course from an artist friend, then applied to take part. It was an 8 week course in best-practice pedagogy which included a placements across London museums and galleries, including Tate Modern, British Library, South London Gallery, Horniman Museum, Whitechapel Gallery and Hayward Gallery. This was a progressive course which aimed to balance the diversity of the museum and gallery workforce and provide some transparency about the skills required to enter these spaces. I did a placement at Tate Britain, where I met a very supportive Learning team, who suggest I apply for the Curator Youth Programme role. My motivations for working with young people are based on social justice, equality of access to knowledge, resources and education for all. Combined with this, the visual arts have been central to my life experiences and perspectives on both a personal and professional level. This work has enabled me to merge these areas of my life.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    Skills and experience include, working with young people from a diverse range of backgrounds who were facing a wide range of challenges in their lives. This built a significant awareness, solidarity and understanding of the varied social, cultural and economic barriers many young people face daily. Additionally, appreciating different learning styles, knowledge and experience of the visual arts processes and functions as a practitioner. Having a clear vision, based on values personal and professional motivations to work develop and establish. Ability to plan, negotiate, collaborate and be adaptable to suit aims and objects of a project, its context and stakeholders. I have a Masters, but I would put transferable practical experience, skills and knowledge above formal qualifications.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    Read as much as possible about the sectors past and current research, insights, policies and projects, as well as meet practitioners informally to discuss their work and about. This can help to work out what you might want to do that is progressive and moves existing practices forward.

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    Not all, but many gallery and museum education practitioners are open to meeting informally for coffee to discuss what they do and how, as an initial introduction to the sector. I would advise joining some of the young people’s advisory or peer-led group who deliver programmes for and by young people, which are often voluntary. Seek opportunities such as placements, internships, any training programme that provide transferable skills, such as organisational, interpersonal, team work, building partnerships and/or collaboration with various organisations and individuals across art forms.

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    Seeing how the Circuit programme has developed over the past 4 years to impact young people positively through informal learning, as well as partner gallery practitioners’ progressive approach to working with young people.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    Engage has helped with building awareness of the good practice that exist and is being developed across the UK. It’s also been a long-term, much needed, consistent resource and platform. Through these shifting uncertain times, Engage is extremely valuable for questioning, capturing and creating access to gallery education in the visual arts.

  • Photograph of Judy Thomas
    Judy Thomas — Lecturer / Programme Leader, Northumbria University

    The best moments are when plans come together; it is always a pleasure when you bring people together for an event or activity and you can see they are really enjoying themselves and gaining from the experience.

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    Working with people. Working with art (especially contemporary art).

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    There are not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    Hectic! I go in early to try and get my email inbox into a manageable shape. At the moment we are in the run up towards assessments so daytime hours are busy with group crits or tutorials. When not busy with these we facilitate lectures, seminars, film screenings or gallery visits. We try and connect activities to galleries and exhibitions where we can. As well as working with BA Fine Art students I work on the MA Contemporary Arts and Education programme. This caters for teachers and educators who usually work full time, therefore we host after school sessions several times a month. We also have a series of Saturday Schools at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. These opportunities are important to acquire knowledge of the production, distribution and reception of contemporary arts in both educational and professional contexts. Alongside teaching responsibilities we have personal research activities to keep up with.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    I trained as an Art & Design secondary school teacher and loved the projects I did based on gallery visits. I wanted to spend more time in the gallery and less time in school!

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    Passion and enthusiasm have always been my main drivers. People skills are essential, as well as flexibility. Keeping an open mind helps you adapt, strategise and make the most of new opportunities. I previously worked at BALTIC, Waygood Gallery and Liverpool Biennial. Having a PGCE was really helpful (although not essential), developing my thinking towards schools programmes and giving insight into the demands of curriculum. This helped me appreciate how busy teachers are and how it isn’t always straightforward for schools to visit galleries.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    It is a very rewarding sector to be part of. Be proactive and get involved with a local gallery. Make the most of the professional development offers that come with being an Engage member. Network and make connections. Seek out placements or internships. Find out what is happening! Get yourself known!

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    Again, being proactive and keen to get involved is important. Network and make connections. Seek out placements or internships. Find out what is happening! Get yourself known!

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    This is difficult to answer – there have been many! The best moments are when plans come together; it is always a pleasure when you bring people together for an event or activity and you can see they are really enjoying themselves and gaining from the experience.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    It offers excellent professional development through the meetings and events. The Engage conferences are brilliant! The connections I have made have been invaluable (regionally, nationally and internationally). It is great to be part of a network where like-minded people come together. The research side is important. It is always great to find out about best practice and the inspiring work undertaken by others. Reading and keeping up to date with reports and policy has informed my ideas and approaches.

  • Photograph of Jack Brown — Artist in Residence at Tidemill Academy and Freelance Artist Educator
    Jack Brown — Artist in Residence at Tidemill Academy and Freelance Artist Educator

    Bit by bit you’ll find your style, you’ll work with organisations and other practitioners that will inspire you and you’ll find you get invited back by organisations that liked working with you.

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    I’ve always enjoyed working with other people, through my work at Tidemill and other freelance roles I’ve worked with elderly artists, 5 year old painters, sculpted with investment bankers, collaborated with teenagers and have got to know and love Deptford over the many years I’ve worked at Tidemill.

    Quite uniquely my role at Tidemill is a permanent position. I’m there three days a week and have been there for 13 years. This has allowed me to build an arts curriculum that is skills based and tailor made to the pupils interests and innate artistic ability. The three days in a school allows me time outside of the role to make my own work as well as taking on a wide variety of freelance projects. These projects have taken me far and wide; into secondary schools in Totenham, up to my knees in mud in Deptford Creek, making wearble sculptures at the Tate and sculpting with 20 investment bankers using potatoes and sticks at the Saatchi gallery.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    Fitting it all in, there is a lot of prep, meeting with project partners, coffees and emails before I even meet project participants. Agreeing project goals early on is worth doing, while excepting that something, somewhere down the line will make you have to change track or compromise helps too. Its often the gate keepers not the participants that hold things up; school receptionists, gallery technicians, funders and local councils.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    If it’s a school day I’m in work by 8 planning a prepping the art lesson for that afternoon.

    I teach all pupils across the school and work to a skills based curriculum I’ve written and re-written over the years. Each term the whole school focuses on a key art skill; clay, drawing from life, print making, looking at art etc. So, I spend the morning planning that afternoons session and working with individual pupils as the schools learning mentor. There may be a meeting with a local gallery or seeing the head to float an idea for a new project, sometimes I’ll be working on a new exhibition of pupils work for the in- school gallery space.

    If it’s a freelance day it could be a range of things; meetings, planning, applications, workshops, making art on my own, making art with other people and evaluating what I’ve just done.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    I’m an artist, I trained as an artist, I’ve always made art. I started working in education years ago as a learning support worker. I moved to Tidemill as the School learning mentor. After a year or two I started to do a few art projects, then I was asked to teach a few classes and slowly I build the role I have today – artist in residence.

    While I began to find confidence as an artist working in the school I also started to build a freelance career in galleries. So it slowly became a big part of my working life. About 8 years ago I was still separating my own practice and my work as an educator and realised things would make much more sense if I call it all ‘my practice’; the school, the freelance stuff, making art with other people and making art on my own.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    I’ve got a Degree in Fine Art and did a brilliant Foundation at Manchester Met, they helped me think and work like an artists but didn’t really get me ready for work, for managing time and workloads, that all came through experience in the job. Being able to communicate with a wide range of people about your practice is a really important skill, if you can’t explain your work to a five year old your not articulating what you do well enough.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    It will take a while to build up a head of steam, you’ll start with bits and bobs and some jobs you might think are a bit rubbish, but bit by bit you’ll find your style, you’ll work with organisations and other practitioners that will inspire you and you’ll find you get invited back by organisations that liked working with you. Also apply for stuff, you’ll find that gets easier with time too, and its actually quite useful in itself – a chance to look at what you are doing, take stock and show off a bit.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    Engage regional meetings have helped me build a network of fellow artists and potential employers. The annual Engage conferences have also provided great network opportunities as well a time to hear to ideas, refresh and be inspired by other artists and educators work.

  • Photograph of Hannah Gaunt
    Hannah Gaunt — Schools Programme Regional Coordinator, Royal Institute of British Architects

    Find a mentor — someone who is further along in their career who is willing to talk to you, encourage you, give advice about career decisions and point you in the direction of opportunities.

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    My current role involves working with practicing architects to support them in the delivery of creative learning activity in primary and secondary schools. My background is not in Architecture, so the opportunity to learn more about this field within Art & Design has been really interesting. Architects seem to really relish the chance to work imaginatively and playfully with children and young people in this way – thinking, talking and making together.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    As a whole Learning team, a key challenge we face is in making the most of our collection. RIBA is an accredited museum with over 4 million objects, drawings and artefacts across 3 sites in London. We share this resource nationally through a digital portal, but we are always looking for innovative new approaches to make the most of what we have and use it effectively to inspire a greater appreciation of architecture and the built environment.

    As it is a national programme, I do travel around a lot — which can be time-consuming. However, within this role I have visited so many new cities and worked in an incredibly diverse range of school contexts — it has been enriching to my practice in many ways.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    I usually start the day by checking in with any ongoing projects in the regions, making sure that the schools and architects have all of the resources and support they need for whatever activity is taking place that day. Then, I may have a meeting with a project partner, such as a cultural venue, to discuss upcoming activity in their region, and to talk about working collaboratively. Or I might spend some time researching resources and projects to feed into the CPD training that we deliver for Architects. I try to get out to see as many of the regional projects as possible — travelling to the schools, chatting to the teachers and architects and then getting stuck in with supporting the children to create exciting drawings, models or digital artworks.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    I studied Fine Art for my undergraduate degree and at that stage I knew I wouldn’t be the sort of artist that spends all day in a studio alone. I have always enjoyed working with people — and considered going into teaching at first. However the flexibility and variety of working in the gallery/visual arts sector really suits me. I work with a diverse range of participants and partners, and have had opportunities to test, develop and lead my own programmes and initiatives. I have also been able to maintain my own artistic practice alongside my professional career, which has kept me connected to contemporary art theory and practical art-making.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    After my undergraduate degree, I undertook an internship at a contemporary art gallery. This opened a lot of doors for me into the sector, and helped me to get a clearer picture of what area of work I was most interested in. Shortly after that found some freelance work coordinating and supporting arts programmes and events, where I was able to build experience in the project-coordination and administrative side of things. I also went on every relevant piece of training and CPD I could get access to (e.g. autism/disability awareness, safeguarding, Arts Award), which put me in a good position to secure my first full time role in a gallery two years after graduation. I have continued to seize every opportunity for CPD that comes my way, and as a result have developed specialist knowledge in access/inclusion, formal learning and working with young people. Employers seem to really value this demonstrable commitment to my own learning. I’m currently undertaking a 2-year fellowship with Curious Minds on Cultural Education Leadership with support from my employer and studying a part-time Masters degree.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    When I graduated I didn’t really know what a gallery educator was. I think it’s a good idea to research the variety of programmes and approaches out there already by looking at the learning/education pages on gallery websites and the Engage resources. This will give anyone new to the field a fuller flavor of what current practice looks like, and the potential diversity of the role. If these programmes sound exciting to you, and you feel you have something you can contribute, then a perhaps career in gallery education is the right choice.

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    I can really recommend working front-of-house in an arts organisation initially. It will give you a good understanding of the operational side of things, and a picture of what the different departments do. Employers may help you to gain experience in other areas by shadowing team members or undertaking training. In my experience, small organisations are more flexible and therefore better places to learn and grow at this early career stage. They are also more likely to give entry-level workers greater responsibility and adapt to your interests and skills.

    Find a mentor — someone who is further along in their career who is willing to talk to you, encourage you, give advice about career decisions and point you in the direction of opportunities. My internship line-manager from 6 years ago has been my constant mentor, and friend, throughout my career so far and we still catch up over coffee once a month.

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    Two years ago, I was working at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool, which is has an incredibly ambitious artistic programme in an interesting and challenging context. I had the opportunity, with funding from the ACE NW bridge-organisation, to work with a small group of young people aged 16-18yrs to explore their own perspectives on quality in the arts. We visited galleries, museums and theatre shows together, and they evaluated, brain-stormed, discussed and mapped their experiences. They quizzed audience members, and met with other young peoples groups. Towards the end of the project, we managed to use some of the funding to take them on a supervised trip to London to visit Tate Modern and the Hayward Gallery. Most had never been to the capital city before, nor seen contemporary art galleries on that scale. Returning to Blackpool, they presented their ideas to the whole team at Grundy, and created a pop-up gallery-takeover event in response – which included a mini-rave!

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    When I was just starting out, joining Engage enabled me to really consider what I was doing professionally within the context of gallery education. It was helpful to learn and understand the programmes, projects, and theories that had come before and to connect with best practice elsewhere. I attended the Engage Summer School in 2014, and that felt like a turning point – where I really started to understand the broader implications of gallery/visual arts learning on children, communities, society and think about my role within that bigger picture. More recently, I joined the Engage Council as an Area rep for the North West which has helped me to feel more connected to my colleagues in the region and starting to think more strategically and collaboratively.

  • Photograph of Joanna Essen
    Joanna Essen — Learning Programmer, Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

    Being involved with local networks led me onto other programmes for young people 

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    I enjoy working with a variety of audiences from early years to elderly. I especially like new audiences who rarely visit Museums and Art galleries. Seeing people’s perceptions change and make them feel welcome.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?
    The venue I work in is a beautiful location however we do lack public transport. This can affect our reach with audience and costs for school visits. The weather can also put people off; we always plan an indoor alternative. Space for activities can fill up quickly and turning people away can be disappointing, timed sessions or pre-booking can help with visitor flow.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    • Meeting & greeting school children
    • Attending Front of House briefings
    • Planning and setting up equipment for the workshops ahead
    • Giving guided tours of the Collections & Exhibitions
    • Delivering practical activities
    • Clearing up!
    • Attending meetings with other departments or external organisations
    • Writing reports
    • Responding to emails

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education

    From my Fine Art degree I wanted to work in an environment which would allow me to use my artistic knowledge and practical skills. I then starting invigilating exhibitions and loved communicating with the public, informing them about the artworks on show. This led me into tours and providing activities for different audiences. I’m always learning and finding out new things in my role, expanding the programmes and working in many art forms and across a wide range of curriculum.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    After my degree I continued to make Art while looking for opportunities to support my practice. I volunteered for arts festivals, schools, and fairs and tried to use my practical skills where I could.

    I became involved with group of artists in the region who wanted to set up a studio space for artists to use which is now Grand Union.

    Being involved with local networks led me onto other programmes for young people and I would seek out opportunities through the city council/ local authority to support the development of the arts in Birmingham.

    Through initiatives such as Creative Partnerships I was able to build on teaching experience in the classroom and work with other artists in the region.

    I became more involved with Ikon gallery and from invigilating in the front of house team moved into the education department before being employed in my current role at Compton Verney.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    Go out and meet people, make contacts and follow them up, ask to be involved even if there isn’t a job role. Just apply yourself, if you feel you’re not good enough or you don’t have the experience just go for it.

    If it’s not working out, start something new or make your own job role. Ask for advice from everyone to help built a picture of what you want to achieve. Show that you want to be involved, enthusiasm will get you everywhere.

    Don’t give up!

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    Approach local galleries for a volunteer application or if there are any opportunities open. Once you get your foot in the door it should hopefully lead onto bigger and better things. Sign up to mailing lists such as artsjobs.

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    Starting up Museums at Night at Compton Verney and seeing it grow year on year. Working with living artists and being part of a creative team of likeminded people.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career

    Networking with regional and national gallery educators means I can take examples of best practice and case studies from a wide range of organizations.

    Keeping up-to-date with current issues and apply for training opportunities helps to move forward with my career.

  • Photograph of Janette Robinson, Head of Learning at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
    Janette Robinson — Head of Learning, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

    The most important qualities a person needs in the field of arts education is a passion for making art accessible to all, a deep understanding of the creative process, and an interest in the multitude of ways people learn and enjoy the world around them.

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is a beautiful, inspiring and challenging environment; I feel fortunate to work here. I love the constantly changing seasons and exhibitions, the interactions with peers in arts and non-arts sectors, our audiences and understanding the wider context in which the organisation sits. The problem solving inherent in creating sustainable, meaningful experiences in people’s lives, broadening choices and deepening understanding of self is a remarkable challenge and privilege.

    What are the main challenges you face in your role?

    The biggest challenge is raising funds to realise the aspirations of YSP Learning’s programmes.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    Members of the Learning Team might find themselves working closely with schools, colleges and universities to explore the links between the curriculum and the arts, utilising creative learning methods. This may include the delivery of hands on workshops, tours and developing teaching resources which encourage teaching staff to embed new skills within their teaching practice. Developing unique events for the general public and for targeted audiences such as family or adults is an interesting aspect of the roles. Each event offers a new area of research and delivery, working with artists to interpret the exhibitions, heritage and environment of the gallery and museum. A fulfilling journey can be undertaken through long term projects with hard-to-reach audiences where a close working relationship, which engenders trust between the participants and museum, creates bespoke and responsive projects.

    As Head of Learning I work closely with curatorial, marketing, visitor information and other teams, to develop implement the public-engagement programme. This includes raising funds with the Development Team, and devising company strategies, policies and business plans. An important element of my role is to maintain a national presence within the profession and representing the Sculpture Park where appropriate on a local, national and international platform. This may include contributing to professional bodies such as Engage, Arts Council England and local authority advisory services.

    Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

    Learning teams in an art gallery and museum aim to make art, and in the case of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park the landscape, accessible to the whole community, and to offer opportunities for people to engage with the arts in a creative and meaningful way. This brought together my interest in art and a wish to work with people to improve quality of life.

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    Qualifications accepted in this sector are a BA in fine art or related subject (as a minimum); it is common for people to hold an MA with an arts / gallery / education / environment focus. Postgraduate qualifications in cultural management are also beneficial. In the United Kingdom this is a low-waged sector.

    Volunteering with many different organisations provides an invaluable insight and understanding of the sector, and often leads to employment. Placements offer similar benefits. Working as a freelance arts education practitioner is useful in helping you gain the required breadth of knowledge and experience. Freelance project coordination is also a recognised path to more permanent full-time roles.

    It is essential to gain experience in working with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. This includes working in a variety of settings such as formal and informal education, health care, criminal justice, and social and economic support services in local authorities. The skills that are needed for project coordination include marketing, writing, fundraising, evaluation, documentation and design. In programme management, the additional skills of finance, and the training/management of staff, placements and volunteers are required.

    Establishing a body of quality work, creating workshops, events, projects, exhibitions and initiatives with a broad range of people and organisations is necessary when seeking employment or funding. A professional approach to administration, an ability to communicate well, and flexible working methods are key skills that can be built upon as work experience grows – from volunteering to leading large-scale programmes of work.

    It is also important to keep abreast of comparable work in museums, galleries and arts organisations, as well as new developments in education, government policy and relevant areas of research.

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    It is generally acknowledged that the most important qualities a person needs in the field of arts education is a passion for making art accessible to all, a deep understanding of the creative process, and an interest in the multitude of ways people learn and enjoy the world around them. This sits alongside a motivation to open doors for those who may need a helping hand, and a will to investigate the many layers of society that shape how people live around the world.

    My advice is to understand what your motivation is for working in this field and to choose the path that reflects who you are, what you are passionate about and where your strengths lie. Get to know yourself and go on a journey exploring the threads of your interests and talents.

    Engage often receives enquiries about how to gain work experience in the sector. What advice would you give to these people?

    As mentioned above, work experiences, volunteering, placements and internships are incredibly useful processes for understanding the reality of working in the sector. It is important to appreciate the unique opportunity arts education can give to a diverse range of people. Flexible ways of working which adapt to individuals needs can create accessible routes to employment. For example, at 24 years old I became disabled, I was able to continue my career in arts education through volunteering and freelance work as an artist and project manager. Later an Access to Work Scheme supported me to make the transition to a full time role in an arts organisation. The experience of being disabled enriched my understanding of engaging audiences, confirming people’s ‘differences’ can be a strength when working in this sector.

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    There have been many wonderful moments on my journey, the following are a small snapshot: the successful implementation of significant long term programmes in the fields of arts and science, arts and health, arts and social inclusion, family learning and formal learning; raising substantial funds to realise the above dreams; finding wonderful people to work alongside me; travelling to Kosova to work on post conflict regeneration; professional development with the Eden Project and YSP winning Art Fund Museum of the Year 2014.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    Engage has played a significant role in my career, I have been a member for over twelve years. It is invaluable for being aware of national arts education agendas, finding inspiration from examples of best practice and understanding government changes to the sector. The Extend Leadership programme was incredibly beneficial and as an Engage Representative for Yorkshire it has enriched my involvement in arts education regionally and nationally. It gives support, a sense of belonging and is a touchstone when creating new work.

  • Portrait of Gina Mollett
    Gina Mollett — Freelance Artist Educator, East Midlands

    What advice would I give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education? Volunteer!

    What do you most enjoy about your role?

    Empowering children by asking them to share their ideas behind the artwork they have created. They are often bursting with imagination and stories that give a wonderful insight into the minds of children.

    What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

    A typical day can vary from sitting round a table to plan a project, to rolling up your sleeves, preparing materials and delivering activities to children (sometimes in the hundreds!)

    How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

    My pathway into gallery education began at 16 years old. I joined a number of Youth Panels across the UK and have fond memories of the opportunities and role models that this experience gave to me. I worked my way up as a volunteer to becoming a freelancer. I believe that if you have the drive to become an advocate for art education and can demonstrate its importance through practical activities then you’re pretty much there!

    What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

    Volunteer! Seek out your favourite galleries and specific projects that match or complement your general interests. Approach and ask to the support the delivery – everyone usually can do with an extra pair of hands!

    What have been your career highlights/best moments so far?

    The year of 2016 had a number of highlights and special moments within my career. It began by receiving a commission to collaboratively produce a series of family workshops that would compliment the Generation ART exhibition at New Walk Museum and Soft Touch Arts in Leicester. It was a real pleasure to share this work at the InSEA Regional Conference at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna and the Off The Map Symposium at De Montfort University.

    How has being an Engage member helped your career?

    It has widened my peer network, offered me opportunities to develop professionally and equipped me with a valuable set of resources!