Creative Careers | Work in a Gallery
Entry-level applicants, get your foot in the door with these insider tips.
On the hunt for a gallery job? Whether you’ve recently graduated or are changing careers, you can find open positions for galleries in New York, California, and everywhere in between on NYFA Classifieds. We’ve gathered a few tips from Wendy Olsoff, Co-Owner of P.P.O.W, on how to secure your first job at a gallery.
P.P.O.W is known for exhibiting photography, representational painting, sculpture, and work with political and social relevance, representing artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Carolee Schneemann, Martha Wilson, Sarah Oppenheimer, and more. In June of 2018, Olsoff participated in a “Gallery Careers” Arts Administrator Q&A as part of #ArtistHotline, a professional development Twitter chat that takes place on the third Wednesday of each month. Learn how to participate here.
Olsoff drew from her nearly four decades of working in galleries, distilling her experiences into a few key pointers for individuals who’d like to make it their job to support artists. Read her advice below, and find the whole Twitter Q&A here.
Make New Connections
Olsoff landed her first gallery job, as a bookkeeper, in 1980 after applying to several galleries. “That first gallery allowed me to get my foot in the door, and from there I immersed myself in the art world,” says Olsoff, who made a point of attending openings to get to know artists and other gallerists. Olsoff recommends that today’s applicants also try to forge new and meaningful connections. Those who are still in school can ask their university’s Career office to make introductions to alumni and other connections.
Reach Out, Early On
According to Olsoff, contacting a gallery to express your interest in working or interning there can help you stand out. The best time to do so is in the late spring—April works well. However, be sure to research each gallery’s policies, as some specify that they do not want to be contacted directly.
Do Your Research
One way an applicant can impress their future employer is by having a firm handle on the gallery’s program and artist roster. As with any field, applicants need to know the in’s and out’s of the organization or company. Visit the gallery’s website, follow them on social media, read articles, and, if possible, attend events to get a feel for the gallery’s work and atmosphere. This kind of knowledge will really help you shine during an interview.
One of the first steps to landing an interview is a targeted cover letter. Be sure to tailor your cover letter for the specific position and gallery. Says Olsoff: “It’s obvious when sentences have been copied and pasted from other job applications. Take your time and edit the letter to talk only about your experience and how that experience fits into the gallery’s mission.”
Find Ways to Gain Experience
Olsoff favors applicants who have strong writing skills, knowledge of art history, and who have completed valuable internships during or after school. Internships on NYFA Classifieds can be narrowed down by industry, location, and whether they are paid or unpaid. With many internships, academic credit can be arranged. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with internship regulations at the Federal level and state level as to what kinds of experience or compensation an intern should expect to gain. Here are New York State criteria for internships at nonprofits and criteria for for-profit businesses, for example.
Once an applicant has landed their first position in a gallery, their mindset should be focused on growth. “A willingness to help at entry level is key,” Olsoff says. Dedication and an openness to learning new skills can go a long way.
Know What Motivates You
Olsoff’s final piece of advice is to “really ask yourself why you want to work in a gallery. From there, try and apply yourself 100%.” Understanding what drives you and what your passions and interests are will help you succeed throughout the application process and on the job.
– Mirielle Clifford, Program Officer, Online Resources
Inspired by the NYFA Source Hotline, #ArtistHotline is an initiative dedicated to creating an ongoing online conversation around the professional side of artistic practice. #ArtistHotline occurs on the third Wednesday of each month on Twitter. Our goal is to help artists discover the resources needed, online and off, to develop sustainable careers.
This initiative is supported by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.
Image: Diana Al-Hadid (Fellow in Sculpture ‘09)