Art Exhibition Organiser

The Job and What's Involved

Art exhibition organisers plan the programme of exhibitions in a gallery or museum and mount and maintain displays.

They aim to ensure each exhibition runs smoothly, provides the best showcase for the artworks and attracts the largest possible audience. The role requires an appreciation of art combined with well-rounded project management skills.

Exhibitions may be permanent or, more often, displayed for a fixed period. Sometimes the art exhibition organiser buys in traveling shows that are touring various venues. Other exhibitions are produced in-house by the gallery team.

Whether producing a small show by new artists or an exhibition of work by old masters in a major gallery, the art exhibition organiser must co-ordinate a complex range of activities. Tasks may include:

  • Coming up with exhibition ideas and writing proposals.
  • Drawing up a long-term calendar of exhibitions with colleagues.
  • Making grant applications or seeking sponsors.
  • Selecting artworks, perhaps from work produced by local or contemporary artists.
  • Arranging to buy or borrow pieces of art as required.
  • Arranging for the packing, transport, insurance, framing and hanging of artworks.
  • Working with exhibition designers to produce the exhibition layout, including signs and labeling.
  • Promoting the exhibition, by producing press material, posters, website information and other resources.
  • Contributing to special events, such as visits by school groups, talks and workshops.

In smaller venues, art exhibition organisers may handle many tasks themselves. In larger galleries, they share the work with specialist colleagues, such as curators and marketing and education staff.

Exhibition organisers work with other members of the gallery team, including colleagues in education, marketing and finance. The role may also require liaison with many external contacts, including artists, collectors, designers, sponsors, journalists and the contractors who supply services such as transport, framing and print.

Working hours vary. Art exhibition organisers may be expected to do a lot of evening and weekend work, depending on the gallery hours. Exhibition launches often take place in the evening.

Part-time work is possible.

Art exhibition organisers are likely to be based in an office. They may spend a lot of time in the exhibition space. Some travel is likely, to attend meetings and view artworks.

They may be required to help install exhibitions, which can entail some lifting, bending and working at heights.

Salaries may start at around £12,000 a year. With experience, earnings may rise to around £20,000. Senior art exhibition organisers may earn around £35,000, while exhibition heads at national galleries may earn around £60,000 or more.

Some exhibitions organisers may work on a freelance or contract basis, negotiating a rate for the project.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Staff are employed in galleries and museums throughout the UK. Most are in cities and towns, although some are found in rural areas.

Some galleries and museums, including the large national venues, are publicly funded. Others are run by local authorities. Independent public art galleries raise income by charging for exhibitions or through admission fees.

Short, fixed-term work contracts are common, as long-term funding for the arts is often uncertain.

Competition for posts is keen. It is essential to have some experience, possibly through voluntary work in a gallery or museum. Most galleries take on volunteers. Smaller venues are likely to offer a broader range of experience. The website www.artsjobs.org.uk lists unpaid placements as well as paid jobs.

Vacancies are found in local and national newspapers, especially The Guardian, in Museums Journal and on websites such as www.artjobster.com, www.artsculturemediajobs.com and www.artsjobsonline.com.

Education and Training

Art exhibition organisers often need a degree. This is normally in a relevant subject such as fine art, art history or archaeology.

For a degree, entry requirements are usually two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent. Some may take a one-year Foundation Diploma in art and design as preparation for entry to an art- and design-related degree course. Applicants should check the entry requirements with individual universities. Those without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course.

Some entrants also have a professional postgraduate qualification. These are available at universities and colleges throughout the UK. Applicants may need a degree (often a 2:1 or above) or acceptable equivalent qualifications or experience. Those working in public galleries may take museum studies qualifications, while those in galleries without permanent collections are likely to carry out specialist art research at postgraduate level.

Qualifications that may be useful include:

AS/A level art and design and applied art and design.

ABC Certificate in art, design and creative studies.

EDI National Award in community arts management.

OCR National Award, Certificate, Diploma and Extended Diploma in art and design.

BTEC National Award, Certificate and Diploma in art and design.

The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Art exhibition organisers train on the job. Their employer may support them in attending short courses.

Art exhibition organisers may be able to study part time for postgraduate qualifications. They may also become members of professional organisations, including the Visual Arts and Galleries Association (VAGA) which offers Starting Out membership to those new to the profession.

NVQ's are available in cultural heritage at Level 4 and cultural heritage management at Level 5.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An art exhibition organiser needs to be:

  • Extremely well organised, with good project management skills.
  • Enthusiastic and knowledgeable about art.
  • Sensitive in handling and caring for artworks.
  • Good at communicating, in person and in writing.
  • Able to get on well with others and inspire them to contribute.
  • Visually imaginative, for planning exhibition layouts and producing marketing materials.
  • Creative.
  • Good at solving problems as they arise.
  • Aware of the special environmental conditions needed to protect some artworks, for example, subdued lighting and set temperatures.

Your Long Term Prospects

Except in large national galleries, it is often necessary to change jobs to progress. Art exhibition organisers may seek to move up to wider management roles within the organisation or move into curatorial, education or conservation roles.

Get Further Information

Arts Council England,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200
Websites: www.artscouncil.org.uk
and www.artsjobs.org.uk

Arts Marketing Association (AMA),
7a Clifton Court, Clifton Road, Cambridge CB1 7BN
Tel: 01223 578078
Website: www.a-m-a.org.uk

Association of Art Historians (AAH),
70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ
Tel: 020 7490 3211
Website: www.aah.org.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Websites: www.ccskills.org.uk
and www.creative-choices.co.uk

Museums Association,
24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW
Tel: 020 7426 6910
Website: www.museumsassociation.org

Touring Exhibitions Group
Website: www.teg.org.uk

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