The role of a gallery manager

 24 April 2012

The job of a Gallery Manager can vary depending on its activities, size, staffing structure and whether it is a public or private space. Two art gallery managers give an insight into their roles.

Chiara always wanted to work in a gallery setting, and  these two internships helped her to focus her ambitions.
Chiara always wanted to work in a gallery setting, and these two internships helped her to focus her ambitions.

Some gallery managers are primarily responsible for front-of-house. They ensure that individuals who come into the gallery space to view exhibitions or buy artworks are looked after and given the necessary information about the show.

Other gallery managers are responsible for behind-the-scenes, overseeing the installation of exhibitions. Their job role can include wide-ranging activities from liaising with artists, to overseeing the exhibition programme, and managing budgets.

Private gallery management

Chiara Conte is Gallery Manager at Poppy Sabire Gallery, established in 2010 in Southwark. Poppy Sabire was previously a Co-Director at the David Risley Gallery, and Chiara has working alongside her, developed skills by learning on the job.

Chiara's work as a gallery manager includes:

Working with artists

  • Taking care of the artists
  • Researching external opportunities for artists
  • Researching new artists and topics for forthcoming exhibitions

Networking

  • Liaising with galleries and other institutions where the gallery’s artists would like to show
  • Dealing with collectors
  • Attending events with the Director

Communications

  • Providing information to visitors
  • Helping with press and listings
  • Managing the website
  • Managing the database with contacts

Logistics

  • Managing the gallery's stores and inventory
  • Dealing with framers
  • Private view logistics including: catering, staff, transport and technicians

Training for gallery management 

Before working at the Poppy Sebire Gallery, Chiara was an intern for the sales and exhibitions departments at Aicon Gallery, where she was also assistant to the Director, and at Victoria Miro.

"If I was working for a public space I would miss selling the artwork, and the business elements of the job.”

As an intern Chiara develop administrative skills, such as becoming adept at managing the gallery IT systems. She also developed her communication skills working closely with artists and technicians amongst others.

Both internships enabled Chiara to expand her knowledge of contemporary art and develop a wider network of contacts.

Chiara always wanted to work in a gallery setting, and  these two internships helped her to focus her ambitions. On realising the full extent of the competition for jobs in exhibition organising and curating, Chiara decided to look for a job in private gallery operations and management.

“One of the advantages of working in a small private or commercial gallery is the flexibility in the management of the resources. There is a direct line between the gallery owner and I so decisions can be made very quickly.

"If I was working for a public space I would miss selling the artwork, and the business elements of the job.”

Qualifications for gallery management 

Chiara developed her knowledge of contemporary art discourse through taking a BA in Visual Arts (Venice) and an MA in Visual Culture (Westminster University).

"The art world operates through personal connections. So much information is to be gained through networking.”

These qualifications have informed her writing skills, which has been useful in the press and PR work she undertakes for the gallery.

In such a competitive area Chiara found that her MA, and the knowledge attained during the course, were vital in securing work.

For those wanting to work in the areas of gallery operations Chiara suggests: “Going to private views and meeting people. The art world still operates through personal connections and so much information is to be gained through networking.”

“It is important to always be reliable, organised and very careful when communicating with the artists and handling artwork.”

Public gallery management

Richard Gough is Gallery Manager at Camden Arts Centre. He oversees the work of all technicians as well as front-of -house, including staffing and contractors, as well as key operational areas such as healthy and safety, and security, first aid, facilities and the environmental policy.

These wide-ranging responsibilities mean that no one day is the same. For example, he can be undertaking an induction for volunteers one day, and working with artists and the programming team to install an exhibition on another.

Richard started his artistic career as a sculptor at Loughborough School of Art and Design. Whilst installing his work for a group show at Nottingham Castle, Richard was offered his first job by the Castle’s technicians, who had been watching his work.

Since then Richard has worked for himself, as well as in a range of different arts organisations bringing artistic visions to life.

Developing skills and experience

Whilst working at the British Council, where he was sent to install art in different countries around the world, Richard developed very strong communication skills.

“The hardest shows to hang have been those where there is not enough dialogue with the artist, and a gap in communication or translation has occurred.”

Richard believes that, “issues will occur when assumptions about how the work should be installed are made, and if the artist's brief is not interrogated closely enough.”

After three years at the British Council, Richard started work at Camden Art Centre’s as Gallery Manager, a position that enabled him to consolidate his skills, experience and knowledge.

“The hardest shows to hang have been those where there is not enough dialogue with the artist."

Seven years later, Richard has installed close to 60 exhibitions, overseeing the work of other technicians. He believes it is, “essential to enjoy the work, and have fun. A relaxed attitude gets the most out of others.”

Richard’s role as a Gallery Manager was centred around managing the technical elements of an exhibition hang and everyday operational logistics of a public space. This is different to Chaira’s role, which focuses on sales, marketing, budgeting and artist liaison, and has less technical content.

The work of a gallery manager therefore varies. For this reason, it is worth doing a lot of research into different galleries and organisations before selecting which skills and experience you need to develop for a career in this area.


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