The arts and cultural sector is expanding nationally and globally, and needs innovative arts administrators who can pair their creativity and passion with analytical, business, technological skills to support diverse and sustainable arts organizations. From local galleries, chamber groups and community theaters to renowned symphony orchestras, established museums and Broadway, opportunities to manage creative and performing arts organizations and arts service organizations exist in the non-profit, public, and private sectors.
Arts management includes some of the same functions as other organizations (development, marketing, media/public relations/communications, human resources, finance/IT, legal) but also includes positions including education, audience or community engagement, and patron services.
Museums, Galleries and Auction Houses
Art is the central and common focus of museums, galleries, and auction houses, but one important difference is that museums provide a custodial function for works of art, whereas galleries and auction houses sell works of art. Most museums are nonprofits; galleries and auction houses are places where the fields of art and business intersect.
Some common careers in a museum include museum educator, conservator/restorer, curator, registrar, researcher, and librarian. The best preparation for museum work is to take as many art history and studio art courses as possible (many art museums will require an undergraduate degree in art history), become fluent in at least one foreign language, and intern at multiple museums. Students with an interest in conservation or restoration will also need a solid background in chemistry, physics, and computer technology.
Typical positions in galleries include gallery owner/director, salesperson, gallery assistant, and crater/packer. Taking courses in art history, history, psychology, and communications will be helpful in preparing for gallery careers; it will also be important to develop applicable business skills. Auction houses require a skill set similar to that of both galleries and museums; in fact, it's usually not possible to find work in this field, except at the administrative assistant level, without prior experience in sales, research, management, and museum curatorial work.
Arts administration internships can be found in most any type of arts organization, and are common in theater companies and museums. Well-established internship programs, such as those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, Sotheby’s and Christie’s offer a wider range of opportunities and often provide a stipend, and are very competitive. These programs are generally more structured, have specific application deadlines (some as early as January), may require a minimum of junior standing and/or a specific concentration, and are usually offered only during the summer. Smaller museums, galleries and auction houses may have more flexible requirements, and may offer internship opportunities throughout the academic year. Planning ahead makes sense; if for example you’re interested in working at a gallery or auction house, an internship that involves sales skills would be advantageous.
Employers in these fields don’t generally visit college campuses to recruit; they hire as the need arises, known as “just-in-time” hiring. This means there’s no set time to apply for these jobs; you should begin applying no earlier than three months prior to your start availability. Most jobs are found through networking, so don’t neglect this aspect of the job search. Remember: the time to build your network of contacts is before you need it! Jobs can also be found by visiting dedicated sites (sites that post open positions only in a particular field (or going directly to the website of the specific organization in which you’re interested.
Even if you’re not looking specifically for arts administration positions, keep in mind that many of the entry-level job openings in the larger organizations will be administrative in nature (for example, an administrative assistant in the curatorial department). In museums, education is often an area with a higher turnover rate. Some organizations such as Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks have paid postgrad internships/fellowships open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree. However, the majority of curatorial fellowships require a Master’s or PhD degree.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s have offices abroad, and provide the opportunity for full-time employment as well. The majority of opportunities in museums, galleries, and auction houses are located in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, but students have also interned in museums in Argentina, Australia, Jamaica, and China. If you speak the language of the host country at a fluent or near-fluent level, your chances of securing an internship or job will be much greater, regardless of whether English is the country’s secondary or tertiary language.
Graduate and Professional Programs
It's not necessary to have an advanced degree to obtain entry level positions in this field and it will be helpful to have several years of work experience on your resume before applying to grad school. For students interested in arts administration, you may want to consider an MBA with a nonprofit track, or a graduate arts administration program. In order to obtain positions in specialized or directorial functions though, it will likely be necessary to obtain an advanced degree. For those interested in museum curatorial work, conservation/restoration, or serving in an upper-level administrative capacity, the typical degree is a Ph.D.; check the American Alliance of Museums for a listing of graduate programs, both domestic and international. For galleries and auction houses, advanced degrees in art history, business, or both are useful. Auction house appraisers may also have specialized training (for example, from the Gemological Institute of America) relevant to their particular field.
Check CARAT or the OCS Summer Funding Page to see if there are any fellowships that may fund an international internship in these areas. Funding for domestic internships will usually come in the form of a stipend from the organization itself. Many students find that planning ahead and getting a term-time job during the academic year, or signing up to work on dorm crew during Commencement, gives them the flexibility to take an unpaid internship. Other students may opt to find a second, paid job during the summer, though this can be tough to manage if the internship is full-time.