EXPO12 – Arts admin and curating


Last week saw EXPO12 return! The Arts and PVAC careers showcase, organised by the fantastic Tess Hornsby-Smith, arrived at Leeds Uni to help all of us undergrads who are starting to think about finding that dream job.

With loads of panels to choose from – Creative Writing, Working with languages and marketing to name but a few – the day was complete with a huge selection of stands in the Parkinson building, all providing advice and top tips on kick starting your career.

I was extremely excited to hear the Arts Admin and Curating talk, and thought it would be nice to post my report of the panel on here, for all those thinking of entering a curating, heritage education or museum career. These top tips are certainly for you!

For more info and panel reviews visit: http://arts.leeds.ac.uk/expo/ or follow @tess_hs on twitter!

Arts Administration and Curating – Panel Review

Some TOP TIPS from our lovely experts:

Abigail Harrison Moore (chair) – Deputy Head of School and Senior Lecturer, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

  • With a background in curating and arts admin, Abigail believes it is extremely important to collaborate and work with others. To bounce ideas off each other and receive constructive feedback on your ideas is one of the most useful processes we can all use to build upon and refine our ideas
  • By not limiting yourself to a strict career plan, you have the ability and freedom to try all sorts of new experiences and jobs – you need to find out what you do and, even more importantly, what you don’t enjoy doing. Having the information you need to develop your career plan, and of course having lots of experience behind you, gives you the best chance to enter the world of work!

Caroline Burt – Engagement Officer, M&S Archive

  • Developing schools and community programmes can, at times, be challenging, but with many rewards along the way
  • Working in heritage education can lead to developing a plethora of activities – from teaching schools about enterprise projects to organising speakers and partnership work to evaluation assessments. The work is very much people based, with some data thrown in for good luck!
  • You have to be able to communicate – to talk to and work with new people each day
  • It helps to research the role you are applying for – not just what you would be doing, but about the company, the people who may be interviewing you and some more in-depth knowledge that will make you stand out from the crowd
  • Heritage education is a small world – you are going to have to be flexible (and have lots of options open to you!) With different jobs to be undertaken every day, no two days are the same. Make sure you are prepared, and be prepared for the unexpected!
  • Caroline admits she has often been a one man band. But this has allowed her to shape her role and mould her own projects. Some things may not have worked, but she has had the freedom to develop and change the programmes throughout
  • It helps to have an interest in people. The artefacts and objects are just a starting point. You have to help people connect with these objects – an extremely rewarding experience.
  • Get yourselves down to the M&S archive!

Michael Terwey – Acting head of public programme, National Media Museum (Bradford)

  • Michael has had quite a different experience from the typical museum job – with limited expertise in film and television (Michael’s interest lies in social history), he has had to be flexible and willing to work in areas that aren’t his specialism
  • Some career routes are fairly specialised whilst other roles require engagement with the public – make sure you know which career would suit you best
  • It may take time to get to where you want to be. Michael started with admin roles before progressing into documentation and finally project management. Do be open to the opportunities on offer to you
  • And do think broadly about which areas you want to progress into
  • Do take part in activities that are different and challenging – and take some time to think about whether you want to stay in a role where each days presents the same tasks or whether you would like a role that is constantly changing and offering you different opportunities
  • Don’t discount admin roles – cataloguing allows you to really connect with a museum’s collection
  • Today’s sector is constantly evolving, with jobs changing on a regular basis and job titles often developing
  • Michael states that there are very few places where as a junior professional you’ll be able to work with the objects themselves and create an exhibition. But this is an invaluable experience all the same
  • More formal learning and training (I.e. Masters, higher education) has helped Michael along the way. But training is extremely important to allow yourself to improve and develop new skills that you can show off during your career

Kitty Ross – Curator of Leeds History/Social History, Leeds Museums and Galleries

  • Kitty believes that volunteer experience is a major factor in getting work in large museums, particularly in today’s climate where jobs are becoming ever more competitive
  • A short term contract in admin roles is an excellent way of learning about the collection a museum holds. The longer you work with a collection, the more chance for hands-on experience
  • Becoming a documentation assistant and developing exhibitions in smaller museums helped Kitty to land a job in Leeds. She says there is lots of teamwork involved – to develop displays, work with designers, research and discuss!
  • Kitty’s day to day role involves maintaining responsibility for Leeds’ collections (which include over 100,000 objects), making sure documentation is up to scratch and developing ways to publish the collection online. Photographing the collections and making sure the objects are publicly accessible
  • A lot of time is spent answering questions and dealing with enquiries – being a people person can help here!

Lindsay Bradshaw – Senior Arts Project Officer, Leeds Town Hall

  • Having skills and experience in admin roles is key – Lindsay worked on a placement in stage management which allowed her to develop her skills, take the shows she worked on abroad, and work as part of a team
  • One of the best experiences Lindsay had was leaving her BA in Geography at uni – finding out what you don’t want to do allows you to recognise what it is you are really interested in
  • After working in Canada, Lindsay realised that she needed lots of different skills to work in the UK – temping jobs helped to pay the bills and gain skills that are vital to her role. Data input and collection can be most useful!
  • Lindsay worked in arts admin at the Carriage works and her role included marketing coordination, loading sets and running the Youth Theatre Academy. She works every year for the Fringe in Canada and also works for Night Light Leeds. Flexibility is key
  • Being able to communicate with a team is essential
  • If you don’t want to continue with higher education, make sure to gain experience. Today’s market calls for transferable skills, and the more you have the better. Use what’s not right to make sure you work in a role you love!

More top tips!

  • Documentation and admin roles will help you to learn about collections, giving you a thorough understanding of a museum’s database and enabling you to identify the objects you are working with
  • Keep an open mind
  • Don’t worry if you aren’t set on the traditional education route – there are many ways to enter the profession
  • A specialist curator or career in management will probably require advanced learning – an academic route may help in landing a job. Consider courses like museum or theatre studies
  • Make sure that applications are geared towards the role you are applying for
  • Be prepared to try new things – a portfolio of experience can always help
  • You have to show people your skills – make sure to let everyone know how fantastic you are
  • Be ready for the unexpected – no two days are the same
  • You need to be flexible. Keep your options open and accept that you may have to try many jobs before landing the your dream role
  • Keep yourself current – keep training and learning to develop those transferable skills
  • Don’t aim to be the Head of Education straight away. You will be competing against a lot of people
  • Self-reflection – recognise your strengths and weaknesses and use them to your advantage
  • Build your CV through experience and volunteering. The more you do the better
  • It is helpful to know people. Build up those contacts!
  • Be aware of the challenges the profession faces – fundraising, philanthropy
  • AND attempt to gain the skills that will allow you to face those challenges head on – working in the Alumni fundraising department does help when you need to pick up the telephone to ask for more money.
  • Be cheeky: ask in the nicest way if there’s any more you can do, demonstrate what you can do and why you are better than all the rest, pick up a telephone, be clear about what you want from someone, ask people if you want help! Don’t be rude and be respectful – but you’ll never learn if you don’t ask
  • Take the jobs that don’t look exciting, and make them THE job to work in. Mould your career and allow it be another amazing experience!
  • Most jobs require you to present as part of your interview. Make sure to build your presenting skills at uni!


If you don’t want to do MA can you just use BA/internships to get a job?

You are up against people with MA’s and PHD’s so make sure you have the skills needed before you apply for a job. It really does depend on which role you are applying for but having a foot in the door can always help. Make sure you know what is required and if you don’t want to take an MA then make sure you gain as much experience as possible. Build your CV. If this doesn’t work, then try an MA. You never know, you may grow to love it

What scholarship does Leeds Uni provide for those wanting to continue with an MA?

Contact the school directly or take a look at http://scholarships.leeds.ac.uk/ for more information

How do you stand out when applying for an internship?

Make sure your application is geared towards the internship – argue that you understand exactly what you are applying for and be specific. Those who have previously unpaid, voluntary experience do seem to get the jobs. Show that you can hit the ground running and are ready for the challenge. Any experience (even non-museum related) does help – data entry etc. Don’t discount any museum experience – show your skills!

SHOW PASSION – make contacts and show an interest in someone else. Definitely research the job you are applying for and show what you know at the interview.

Make sure you target your emails and CV to the people you apply to. Write your letters to the specific person you need to talk to – Dear Sir/Madam does not count! And please have a professional email address…that is the first impression people receive of you.

Do you need to be present on social media sites such as LinkedIn, twitter and facebook?

A lot of jobs are advertised online so having an account and keeping up-to-date with the people and organisations you are interested in helps. Join groups, sign up to organisations and subscribe: network with people in the field and get yourself known.

BUT make sure that you keep things professional. Interviewers may look at your online presence to check you out and see what you’ve been up to!


Try your best and land that job. There are plenty of avenues open to you, so give them all a go. Get out there and enjoy!


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