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Engage is the lead advocacy and training network for gallery education.

We support arts educators, organisations and artists to work together with communities in dynamic, open exchanges that give everyone the opportunity to learn and benefit from the arts.

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Careers advice

Judy Thomas

Your name: Judy Thomas (Jude)


Job title: Lecturer / Programme Leader


Organisation: Northumbria University


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.

Read other Q&A's from our members here.

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