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.