Sarah Green, gallery learning programmer

 26 March 2013

Sarah mixed her passion for working with children with learning in a gallery. She shares the moment that she knew that heritage learning was the right career for her.

Helping visitors engage with the galleries is an important part of what a Gallery Learning Programmer does. Copyright: Geffrye Museum, Londo
Helping visitors engage with the galleries is an important part of what a Gallery Learning Programmer does. Copyright: Geffrye Museum, Londo

What is your home town?

I was born in Chester in the north-west of England, but I live in London.

What is your job title?

Gallery Learning Programmer for the Courtauld Institute of Art.

What qualifications did you do?

At college, I studied English, Art and Politics at A level. Then I went to Leeds University to achieve BA Fine Art degree, which was part Fine Art, and part Art History.

At a later stage, I did a MA in History of Art part-time at University College London.

How did you get started in heritage?

One day, my university class went to Leeds Art Gallery session to work with a learning officer. We saw a different side to looking at art and how that changed depending on the audience.

I understood from a museum’s point of view why art was displayed in a certain way and I was fascinated by the techniques, method for displaying art and the problems involved in that.

Afterwards, I emailed the learning officer and asked if I could do some work experience. In my final year of University, I worked as a part-time volunteer in the learning office.

"“I’m lucky to live in a country with amazing heritage collections, free for the public.”

This involved creating teacher resources, interpretive exhibition material and information- all aimed at helping the public engage with the artwork.

I found that the role was varied as there was only a small team. I was multi-tasking and doing admin work, but I also got to work with the public.

What previous jobs have you done?

After I graduated, I researched job websites online for positions. I became a teaching assistant in a school art department. I developed a really good understanding of working in education with young children with special education needs (SEN).

"Planning starts after the first meeting. I am checking, discussing and coming up with new ideas."

Next, I worked in an art college and managed their widening participation education programme. I created a series of art classes, taster days and summer school for young people to get involved.

I decided to do my MA and as this was part-time, I also worked as the Learning Manager for Schools, Colleges and Universities at the Design Museum.  

What do you do in your job?

I manage the public learning in the gallery – it includes school visits, expert talks, lectures, and late-night events – aimed for general public, universities and academics.

My time is spent in the gallery, in the office, and out meeting other organisations. I could be doing outreach work in colleges, interview performers for the late-evening events or just doing administration like answering emails.

One of my favourite talks was a late event for Becoming Picasso. We try and encourage audiences that wouldn’t normally come to the gallery, by bringing the exhibition to life using music, talks, workshops, performance, poetry and games.

When it comes to organising events, the planning process is very important:

  • First thing we do is meet the curator’s team three or four months before an exhibition. They tell us about the show, the themes, and the artwork.
  • Then my team make a plan for the different elements of the visitor programme. This includes curator talks, school engagement, academic interaction and the late events.
  • We also produce a teacher’s resource pack, which is a learning pack. The institute’s undergraduate and research students get involved by writing short articles for this.

Ultimately, the process is creative. The planning immediately starts after the first meeting. I am checking things, discussing things and coming up with new ideas.

What is the best part of your job?

The variety is the best part as you get to see behind the scenes. When the Picasso was installed, I got to have a sneaky look when all of the paintings were arriving.

I also get to help educate different people from all walks of life. This can be small children, who are drawing and learning about Impressionism. It can also mean teenagers, who are taking their Art A level, or adults looking for next step in their career.

What is the worst part of your job?

The administration side is time-consuming. Tasks like planning, documenting and carrying out health and safety, take time, but it a necessary part of what we do.

How can I get started in Heritage?

There are three areas that I would recommend focussing on:

1. Research different roles and jobs available in museums

A lot goes on behind the scenes so you need to know what you want to do. This can mean exploring the different departments (such as marketing, PR, curatorial, visitor services, etc) It’s important to look through the different available careers in the heritage sector.

2. Get work experience

There are opportunities for work experience available. If possible, try to get work experience while you’re still studying, when you may have more spare time. If you’re interested in education, go and get some experience working with young people and education institutions.

3. Great communications skills are vital

You tend to work in small teams so being able to work closely with your team is important.

You also need to be able to plan for different deadlines and work on different projects, at the same time.

What is the importance of heritage?

I’m lucky to live in a country with amazing heritage collections that are free for the general public. The interesting thing about my job is I get to ‘open the doors’ for people. They can access interesting institutions, to learn and gain enjoyment from their experiences.

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