Finding a Job in an Art Gallery

Publication date: 
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five years ago, I graduated with a fine arts degree and haven't worked in the field. Although I paint on the side I don't make much money; instead I have mostly survived by working retail. I really want to leave the shoe store I'm working at and think I would prefer working as a gallery assistant. I've looked online but those jobs seem hard to find ... please let me know how I can get my foot in the door.


The truth is that positions in galleries, even junior ones, are few and far between, but my philosophy is that jobs can usually be found if you’re focused, persistent and willing to pay your dues.

I don't think looking online is the best way to find gallery assistant positions, though it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on job boards put out by organizations like Cultural Careers Council Ontario (CCCO) and the Canadian Museums Associations. Another tactic would be to arm yourself with resumés and walk around to galleries, offering your services. Make sure your resumé plays up skills or background that are relevant(your customer service experience, art school education, your own art work, experience setting up or breaking down exhibits, etc.) And don't forget to bring an updated portfolio with you.

In the art gallery world networking is probably the best way to hear about and find jobs. I suggest doing information interviews with people working in galleries and museums. At this stage of the game, do not ask directly for a job; instead focus on making connections, getting referrals to other contacts, and obtaining advice and information.

Volunteering is a great way to make contacts and get relevant experience -- by making yourself useful with these organizations you will make your presence known and this will help you network with industry people. One major art happening in Toronto is Nuit Blanche. Contact organizers to see how you can get involved -- this is a huge event that relies on the work of hundreds of volunteers and artists. Or try other art-related events such as Art Toronto or Luminato. As well, the Ontario Association of Art Galleries uses volunteers in its office or for various events. The CCCO also lists volunteer positions and the Toronto Arts Volunteer Network connects volunteers with professional arts organizations.

You could also informally network with like-minded people through social groups such as the Toronto Arts and Culture Meetup group. If you're the social sort, you could also go to cultural events on your own and introduce yourself to other attendees (hopefully you'll run into a few artists, art collectors or gallery owners.)

And don't forget to keep abreast of the arts and culture scene; for instance, read news posted on the Ontario Arts Council site or Fuse Magazine or sign up for the Canadian Art Weekly.

Best of luck,

Katherine O'Brien

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