What is a career in the arts?
The arts sector offers a large variety of roles within the creative arts, design, and crafts, performing and visual arts, libraries, museums, galleries, and heritage. Roles include museum curators, arts administrators, heritage or theatre managers, and historians. Roles are often specific to each industry and require a relevant qualification. However, some are open to graduates from broader backgrounds, including management, marketing, communications, history, geography, or anthropology. To work in the sector as a graduate, you will need previous relevant experience gained through volunteering or internships.
Where can I work, what can I do, and how can I get there?
- Museums and heritage – there are around 2,500 museums and thousands of galleries in the UK, ranging from large publicly-funded institutions to smaller, privately financed ones. Large well-established organisations regularly hire graduates, for example English Heritage, the Natural History Museum, and the National Galleries of Scotland. Several useful websites allow you to explore this sector and its employers further, including the Museums Association, the National Museum Directors' Council and the Institute of Conservation.
- Creative arts, design, and craft – small companies or micro-businesses are typical of the creative arts sector. To explore these organisations, the following websites will be useful: for creative industries, cultural education and arts – the Creative Industries Federation; for the design profession – the Chartered Society of Designers.
- Performing arts – there are two main types of theatre in the UK: repertory theatres, which have a resident company producing its own work and presenting plays from a repertoire; and non-repertory or receiving theatres that buy in plays and other productions. As well as West End, national and regional theatres, typical employers include arts centres, dance companies and opera companies. Professional bodies include the Independent Theatre Council and UK Theatre.
- Libraries and information management – there are thousands of libraries in the UK, both public and private. Employers include local authorities, community organisations, charities, educational institutions, and commercial organisations, such as law firms. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals provides useful information about library careers.
There are many different roles in the arts sector and there are always new fields emerging, such as cultural data science. Here is a selection:
- Arts administrator – plays an important part in the management and development of projects. In a small company, covers functions from marketing and managing performers and audiences, to handling finance and insurance. In larger companies, the role may be much more specific, eg, focusing on education, front of house administration, etc. The Prospects arts administrator job profile provides further details.
- Museum/gallery curator – manages collections and works of art, deals with the acquisition, care and display of items, and informs and educates the public. May also deal with fundraising, marketing, public relations and running education programmes. Check out the Prospects museum/gallery curator job profile.
- Exhibitions officer – responsible for the planning, delivery, and installation of individual exhibitions. Specifically involved in event organisation and operations, public relations and marketing, logistics and production of publications. The Prospects museum / gallery exhibitions officer job profile is a useful resource.
- Heritage manager – manages and conserves heritage sites such as museums, historic buildings, ancient monuments, and other properties. Focuses on balancing the preservation of historically important sites with ensuring projects are sustainable from a business perspective. The Prospects heritage manager job profile will tell you more.
- Historian – uses documents, maps, official records, and photographs to study the past and educate the public about collections or artefacts. Has an enquiring mind and excellent research skills. Typical employers include university departments, museums, and heritage organisations.
- Theatre manager – has responsibility for business and administrative aspects of the theatre. Needs to be commercially minded to lead marketing and publicity activities. Ensures the public get the most out of their experience when visiting the theatre. The Prospects theatre manager profile provides further details.
There are job profiles for a wider range of careers in the arts on Prospects.
Most entrants start off by volunteering and undertaking internships. These experiences allow you to make contacts for the future, and to gain confidence and legitimacy in the sector. Getting involved in preserving a heritage site or helping at a museum, country house or archive can be valuable experience. Most of the larger organisations in the sector advertise volunteering opportunities on their websites.
A career in the arts sector is desirable and therefore highly competitive. Salaries reflect the level of competition. Where a relevant qualification is not needed, you must demonstrate your passion and motivation. Relevant work experience is highly recommended to help you stand out to recruiters. Graduate schemes are almost non-existent in the sector, but some museums offer traineeships for assistant curators, such as the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeships.
As vacancies are often not formally advertised, it’s important to take a mixed approach to job searching, applying to advertised jobs, but also using and developing your network of contacts. LinkedIn is great for helping you to do this. Speculative applications are also well received in this sector.
Where can I find out more about working in this sector?
Interested in finding out more about a career in the arts?
Here are some helpful links, including the ways LSE Careers can work with you on your journey.
LSE Careers resources:
Most of these pages include industry information, members’ directories and/or job vacancies.
- Arts Council England – government-funded body dedicated to promoting the performing, visual and literary arts in England.
Creative arts, design, and craft
- Creative Industries Council – joint forum between the creative industries and government, focusing on access to finance, skills, export markets, regulation, intellectual property (IP) and infrastructure.
- Creative Choices – gathers resources useful to those who want to work in the creative sector.
- Creativepool – a network of creative industry professionals and companies.
- Creative Access – helps young people, from BAME and underrepresented communities throughout the UK, to access creative careers.Creative and Cultural Skills – industry insight on a range of creative sectors.
- ScreenSkills – an industry led charity for the screen industries. Provides advice on getting in, starting a portfolio, etc.
Museums and heritage
The following is a good resource for networking across the arts:
- CareerHub – jobs board targeting LSE students, including events and networking opportunities. Covers creative arts, design and crafts, libraries, museums and heritage, and theatre and performing arts.
- Arts Council England jobs – job opportunities within the arts and culture sector.
- Creative Opportunities – jobs and internships website from the University of the Arts London, aimed at students and graduates, and open to the public.
- Guardian Jobs – arts and heritage jobs, including work in music, events, theatre and museums and galleries.
- CILIP – lists library and information jobs in a range of settings.
- Museums Association ‘find a job’ – job opportunities in museums.