Things seem bleak. The arts sector is facing uncertainty and funding cuts, while ‘soft subjects’ like A-level Art History are being culled. It’s easy to find yourself asking: ‘am I really going to be able to get a job with a degree in the History of Art?’
The perfect antidote was the Art History Careers Day hosted by the Association of Art Historians. It’s been 8 years since the AAH last held a careers day at the Whitworth, so I felt lucky to have snagged the last ticket. The day opened with Denise Bowler, Learning & Engagement Manager at the Whitworth providing information about the different careers available at the gallery. I was especially surprised at the variety of work they do with the local community. Listening to Laura Robertson (co-founder and editor of The Double Negative and fellow Liverpudlian) was an inspiring experience, discovering how she created her own opportunities through blogging which then led to her becoming a writer for The Guardian and ArtReview. Laura gave a great insight by lifting the curtain on the world of critical artwriting, stressing the need to be organised and to juggle different jobs – important skills to cultivate while still at university!
The afternoon proved just as interesting, with Kate Jesson (Exhibition Curator at Manchester City Galleries), who gave a refreshingly honest account of forging a career as a curator, and how much hard work goes into putting on a show – far more than simply having a good concept. Drawing on Kate’s theme of using history to engage with things happening now, the next speaker Lara Eggleton (Independent Art Writer and Historian) provided useful information on how to make connections with different cities and artists in order to build-up networks and generate funding. She also mentioned that if you can find funding it’s possible to have your dissertation published – something I was completely unaware of before today.
The penultimate speaker was Sara Potter who is Conservator at the Whitworth, and it was fascinating hearing about this aspect of the gallery’s work. The science and technology involved in the preservation and restoration of artworks was mind blowing! Personally, as I’m hopeless when it comes to science, this probably isn’t the career for me; however, it was useful to discover more about these vital practices. Finally we heard from Jack Welsh (Independent Researcher and Artist), whose interdisciplinary background gave us a unique perspective on the countless possibilities of practical work and freelancing in the arts sector. He hammered home the importance of fully engaging as a student, of maximising every opportunity and having no regrets.
As a first year student, I think it’s never too early to start preparing for life after university – even if you’re not sure exactly what career you want. Admittedly, I’m not your ‘typical’ first year, having taken a 4 year gap-year (existential crisis?) trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Moving to a new city and starting at university is an overwhelming experience for anyone, even for me a ‘mature student’ (makes me sound a bit ancient!). But, having had time to reflect, I’ve realised how crucial it is to fully immerse yourself in everything university has to offer.
The careers day was enlightening, motivational and showcased the variety of jobs available in the arts and heritage sector. We were lucky to have such professionally varied speakers who all genuinely opened my eyes. When I left I felt like my head was ready to burst from all the information we’d been given! I would strongly recommend the careers day to anyone wanting to work within the arts industry. The most important advice I will take away from the day is to be brave and put yourself out there, say yes to as many opportunities as you can, and if there aren’t any opportunities available then make them yourself!
(Images by Rachel Hughes)