Museum Staff

Getting a Museum Job

Mark Walhimer Working in museums 12 Comments

Museum Staff
Want to work in a Museum?  Below are some suggestions about how to get your first museum job.
1. Why a museum? – Why do you want to work at a museum?  Museums do not pay well and you will work long hard hours.  Museums work with limited resources and you will be consistently asked to do a lot with little or no resources.  Are you a resourceful person?  Are you comfortable working in environments that are quickly changing?
2. Where do you fit? – Most museums have similar departments; Exhibits, Education, Marketing, Development (Fund Raising), Operations and Finance.  The structure of each museum is different, sometimes floor staff are part of the education department, sometimes part of operations, the departments are of different museums are similar with different organization of the staff.  Most of the people that I know who have been successful in museums have worked their way up.  It is very difficult to enter the museum field at a high level, being new to the field.
Since 1986 I have held six postions at Museums:
Arizona Art Museum, Art Handler
Liberty Science Center, Exhibit Technician / Exhibit Developer
Discovery Science Center, VP of Exhibits
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Director of Museum Projects
The Tech Museum, Producer
The arc of my career is evident from the job titles; starting with installing exhibits for the opening Liberty Science Center to managing the development, design, fabrication and installation of exhibits at several museums.
3. Resume – Create your resume.  Review your skills and match up your skills with the different departments of a museum;  customer service (floor staff), accounting (finance), welding (exhibits), social media (marketing), etc..
4. Where do you want to work – I am a believer in deciding where you want to work and go get a job there.  Visit all of your local museums and decide where you would like to work.  During college I worked at the college gallery and my second job in NYC was as an Art Handler, I had two years of Art Handling experience.  I was living in Phoenix, walked into the Phoenix Art Museum (then called the Arizona Art Museum) and asked to meet the curator of Contemporary Art.  I told the Curator of my Art Handling experience and said I will work as a volunteer.  I started the next week, building racks for paintings, not glamorous but I was working in a museum as a volunteer, in a few weeks they offered my a paying job in the museum store. Knowledge of Art handling is a great way to enter to the world of museums.  Check out my list of Art Handling firms for potential companies.  If working locally doesn’t work, look into jobs at smaller museums.  Many small museums have entry level positions, but they may be in the Mid-West or a distance from a major city.
5. Sources of museum jobs:

Craigslist – Great source for entry level museum jobs
American Association of Museums – Good source for mid level and senior museum positions
Association of Science Technology Centers – Good source for mid level and senior science center positions
Association of Children’s Museums – Good source for mid level and senior children’s museum positions
Museum -L – Museum list serve, lists mid level and senior museum jobs
Coroflot – Good source for design positions, list museum jobs from time to time
Core 77 – Good source for design positions, lists museum jobs from time to time

Go to museum conferences and network, talk to people.  Get business cards and send thank you notes.
6. Volunteering – Volunteering at a museum is a great way to get your foot in the door.  It is the way I got my first museum job.  Also give you an opportunity to try working for different departments within the museum.
7. Floor Staff – I am a firm believer that everyone who works at a museum spends time working on the museum floor working with the public.  Getting a job as a cashier, museum store staff, security and education floor staff, are the most likely first jobs at a museum.
8. Museum Firms – There are many firms that provide services to museums, design firms, fund raising, Art handling, insurance, head hunters, IT, if you can’t find a job in a museum, try a firm supplying services to museums.
9. Informational interview / Interview – An informational interview is a great way to understand the dynamics of a particular museum.  Most museum staff are open to a 15-20 minute informational interview; be professional, show up on time, send a thank you note and be prepared with questions.  If you are interviewing for a job, stay concentrated on how your skills match the needs of the museum.
10. Keeping the job – Museums are slow moving political institutions.  Try to stay out of the museum politics, define your job as well as possible,  understand how your performance will be reviewed and be ready for change and challenges. Often the easiest way to move up the museum career ladder is to move to another museum.

Comments 12

  1. This post realy helpful to know about the culture and atmosphere of museum.

  2.  Thank you got posting this. This definitively will help me getting my foot into my dream job! 

  3. I agree, I work at a museum and also a recent graduate in the art field. I am starting at the bottom, but I do agree especially with number 10 about climbing up the ladder. Thanks, this help me alot.

  4. I just started at my local museum. I’m working the front desk. I left my very stressful job at a law firm and took this up. I will say, if you are looking for “full-time” GOOD LUCK. It’s very hard at entry level (speaking with Jesus in person will be easier) So I am giving myself 8 weeks of this very nice job till I have to look for full-time (also no benefits)

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