03 October 2008

How I got into the museum field

A colleague on the museum-ed list recently asked:
I've been asked by my alma mater to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Art History club. The topic is "breaking into the museum field." There's the obvious: internships, making contacts, joining professional organizations, etc. I could tell them about my own crooked path into this field, but I'm not sure that would be helpful. I'd rather arm myself with an array of stories from a lot of different people. So, tell me! I'd love to hear your story. How did you get into museum education? What was your first museum job? How did you get it? And how did you move up from there?
For what it's worth, here is my response:

I trained to be a high school art teacher at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education (now the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales). In my first year (1975) I had a wonderful lecturer in drawing, Robin Norling. Robin inspired me, not just because he was the first person to ever successfully explain to me just what drawing was, but also because he showed - by example - how to connect with people in an educational context, and how to connect people with art. I was fortunate to have him again later in my course, as a lecturer in art education "method". In my final year, Robin left the College to become Head of Education Services at our state art museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

After graduating, and while looking for a full-time teaching position, I became the volunteer coordinator of a local community arts organisation and taught art and craft at a number of school vacation programs, including one organised by Robin at the Art Gallery.

I eventually landed a job as a full-time art teacher at a private school and taught there for a few years. During that time, two museum educator positions at the Art Gallery became available, about nine months apart. I applied and was interviewed for both, and was successful with the second (1982).

From 1982 to 2001, I...
  • gave slide lectures and gallery talks on the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions
  • gave talks to students from Kindergarten to grade 12 (and beyond) in regional towns, with the Travelling Art Exhibition (1982-88)
  • planned and mounted four "Onsight" (metropolitan travelling) exhibitions, including the writing of catalogues, worksheets and news releases (1984-89)
  • gave talks to diverse groups (e.g. nursing homes, schools, service clubs, art societies, prisons) with the "Onsight" program
  • planned and mounted exhibitions in the Gallery's Education Space, each consisting of original art works, supported by diagrams, written material and interactive displays
  • planned and mounted "Artexpress" (outstanding works from state matriculation examination in visual arts), including coordination of catalogue, promotional material and related events
  • compiled and edited the Gallery's Exhibitions & Events brochures (since 1990), including gathering and compiling of information and images, editing, supervision of Graphic Designer and coordination of its distribution
  • selected, trained and managed a group of contract teacher-lecturers
  • produced various audio-visual programs, such as videos and audio-tours
  • designed and created the Art Gallery's first website
  • planned and co-ordinated programs for visitors with special needs, including in-house staff training
  • ran in-service and pre-service courses for teachers and teacher trainees on using the Gallery as an educational resource
In 1996, I became Coordinator of Education Programs, and second-in-charge of our department (now called "Public Programs").

In 2001, I became the Gallery's first Manager of Information, with responsibility for the Art Gallery's websites and regular publications. However, I still enjoy giving lectures and gallery talks from time to time. (I also regard our websites as being essentially educational.)