How do I get experience working with art collections?

Sarah wants to work in art handling and wants to know how to get experience.

I’m considering two career options of becoming a registrar (dealing with loan requests) or collections management (handling art collections).

I’m finding it very difficult to get experience in both of these careers, as it takes a lot of time and trust before you get access. 

How can I get work experience into these two areas? Is there anything I can do to encourage trust?


— Sarah

Expert answers

Carol Rogers's reply:

Dear Sarah,

I would suggest you look for volunteering experience through a national programme or a youth arts initiative. 

You could consider the arts council ‘arts award’ scheme for young people. A wide range of arts institutions/museums are involved across the UK, so hopefully there may be an opportunity close to you.  

Participating in a national award is a good way to demonstrate that you are committed and responsible - which will hopefully encourage trust.

Take a look at the arts council website to find out more.

Carol   ​

Sally Munday's reply:

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for getting in touch.

You’re right, getting into those areas for work experience can be really tough, but keep going!

I manage volunteering at the Science Museum. I’m not sure whether you were looking for volunteer placements or paid experiences, and I understand that not everyone can ​find time to set aside for volunteering.

Volunteering in the heritage sector is one of the best ways to get into it, and to start networking and building your skills etc for your CV. 

Volunteering in Heritage is really well managed as most museums have a volunteer coordinator or manager, who will be managing all the volunteers and their placements.

The Science Museum have roles in behind the scenes departments quite regularly – and often the volunteers go on to getting paid work either, here or, at another museum or heritage site.

If you don’t think you can give up your time to volunteering, then it may be worth getting in touch with volunteer departments anyway – sometimes internships or paid placements do become available.

There are sometimes local schemes that will help people find paid internships or sponsor people while they volunteer, so you could also get in touch with your local job centre or council to see if they offer this sort of scheme.

Good Luck! 


Catherine Price's reply:

Dear Sarah,

The Loans Registrar, Helen Oliver, at Birmingham Museums was a curator before she was a registrar, and she suggests it’s worth getting all round experience in museum practices such as:

  • receiving artworks in and out of museums, 
  • documentation, 
  • wrapping and packing artworks, 
  • any form of loan procedures,
  • general exhibitions experience.

Some registrars may be happy to take a volunteer on one day a week or to offer a couple of days of work shadowing - it’s worth trying to make contact with them directly instead of going through the normal ‘work experience’ programme which may not be relevant in this case.

Helen also suggests developing project management skills, and showing you are good at juggling lots of things at the same time - as this will be good preparation for life as a registrar. 

Many of the policies on the arts council and collections link website around loaning objects, couriering objects, insurance-GIS are really relevant and useful.

Hope that gives a couple of ideas.



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