Administrators in the visual arts sector are responsible for the effective operation of events or institutions. They work in areas such as accountancy, fundraising, publicity and customer care. They also organise exhibitions and manage people and buildings.
Arts administrators provide this support for organisations such as:
The work varies considerably depending on the type and size of the organisation. Arts administrators in small galleries may be responsible for the whole day-to-day running of the venue. In large organisations, such as an arts board, they may need to understand the work of several departments. This could include areas like personnel or finance. Arts administrators may also specialise in one specific area, such as providing information to the public.
Starting salaries for trainees or assistants may begin at around £15,000 to £20,000. Salary scales are often related to local government administrators.
No specific degree is required for a career as an arts administrator, but it can be an advantage in employers’ eyes if you have an arts administration, events or business management-related degree, as it demonstrates an early interest in the field and a level of creditable knowledge about the sector. Furthermore, due to the developments in software and electronics that have revolutionised all aspects of the creative sector, from photography to web design, a working knowledge of equipment and technology can also be attractive in the eyes of employers.
According to the Student Times, salaries can start at £15,000, with experienced staff earning up to £30,000 and senior staff taking £50,000, though there will be geographic discrepancies, with arts administrators tending to earn more in and around metropolitans centres such as London. The size of the organisation will also directly impact wages. Arts administration roles often pay low wages because they are typically in the not-for-profit field.
Keep up to date and read Arts Professional, the leading arts management journal, for up to date news and features about the sector - also available on-line or by subscription. See also the four Arts Councils’ websites. You may also be interested in Arts Hub an online jobs, news and events information service for arts and cultural workers in the UK.
|Key attributes/skills needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes while at university|
|Interest and ability to work with numbers||
Depending on your modules, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies.
Numeracy is usually assessed through psychometric testing. The Careers Centre has online practice resources.Using the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel
|IT skills - must be proficient in the use of administrative software, such as Word and Excel|
|Strong communication & interpersonal skills||
CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice
|Ability to organise time and work well under pressure|
|Leadership qualities and effective team working skills|
Competence in promoting and publicising events
|You can develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as marketing the On The Rocks Arts Festival|
Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?
The work of an arts administrator can vary widely, from administrative duties to fundraising and liaising with artists, and so various organisations offer suitable employment:
Career progression in arts administration will usually be erratic compared to that of other sectors, as there are no well-defined paths or trajectories. A complicating factor is that, in order to progress up the career ladder, it is likely you will need to move both location and organisation, often more than once. Another issue in this line of work is a lack of job security, with many administrators working for different employers on successive short-term contracts. For these reasons, arts administrators must be able and willing to take a flexible approach to their work, an aspect further evinced by the irregular hours they must be prepared to work especially in the days immediately prior to the release of a new show, the publication of a new work, or the opening of an exhibition. Being prepared to move around the UK is essential, particularly in the early years when even short term openings should be seized upon. However, many in the industry find that the privilege of being the first to see a completed work in action and of working with people passionate about their trade often outweighs the negatives of a fluctuating timetable.
An administrator in a small organisation could be responsible for a wide range of functions, from marketing and booking to finance and insurance matters. In a large organisation there are likely to be separate departments responsible for specific areas, such as finance, programming, front of house management or public relations and marketing. There are jobs available in all of these functions. The skills utilised by an arts administrator, revolving largely around finance, accounting, marketing and personnel management, gives arts administrators a transferrable skillset that can help them to work in other management positions outside the arts; these include roles such as human resource management.
Software and electronics developments have revolutionised all aspects of the creative sector, from photography to web design – this is one aspect of the sector that graduates should particularly consider when looking for a job. You might want to take a training course in some functions of IT to become acquainted with programmes you would have to use as an administrator (CAPOD offer can some assistance in IT training). Also, play to your strengths and look for jobs that require someone who has your skills and experiences, and make an early note of the requirements of jobs you are interested in to give yourself the time to acquire the skills and experience necessary.
Jobs are likely to involve travel between venues and your offices and so having a drivers’ license can be useful, though it is unlikely to be a prerequisite for attaining the job itself.
Administrators who achieve standing in organisations with a European or international reputation can develop international careers, but, for the majority, moving between countries and their cultural industries can be problematic.
The conditions of work taken for granted in many areas of work cannot be presumed to exist in the arts. Passion and enthusiasm need to be balanced by the realisation that few administrators make handsome salaries, there is no recognised career structure, and conditions are rarely glamorous. Most are motivated by their passion for the arts and by the joy of working with creative talent; the compensation of having to attend performances as part of the job may not always be appealing when combined with full-time work. Self-employment is increasingly significant and the need for freelance providers or short-term project or contract staff seems likely to grow. Salaries are therefore low on entry, often not much more than the minimum wage, but rise with experience.
Arts administrator duties include:
Sarah is Head of Capital Campaigns at The Royal Academy of Arts. She is a Mentor on Saint Connect.
Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation you are applying to you then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to keep up-to-date with employers and the sector. Because many opportunities in this sector are not advertised, it is imperative to make connections with those already established in the business so they can let you know about any vacancies – they might also be able to provide you with advice on how to market yourself and break into the sector. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Glasgow Film and the International Arts Movement, to name but a couple. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information
Artsphere: the creative arts network
There is no substitute for relevant work experience. Start to acquire it as early as you can. Use your vacations, spare evenings or weekends to help with student drama productions or concerts, look for part-time or temporary jobs front of house and in the box office, in cinemas, or in the bars and cafeterias of arts centres and theatres. The organisers of arts festivals often need temporary staff to help with administration and publicity; check out the British Performing Arts Yearbook and the The British Arts Festivals Association. Make contact with local community arts workers and find out where volunteer help is needed; bear in mind that many students gain their most valuable experience by taking on administrative responsibilities with student and amateur performances. Sell tickets, organise publicity, book outside performers - use whatever opportunity you have to gain relevant experience – but be aware that performing roles in themselves will not be relevant, and that experience with student productions alone is unlikely to be sufficient.
Temporary jobs are often the foot in the door that enables the aspiring arts administrator to demonstrate his/her creative and administrative ability and to network with other administrators. Volunteering and getting work experience can also help you discover what facet of the industry interests you most and what you are best at doing, whether it’s accounting, marketing, fund-raising, designing or other administrative processes.
Auction houses can offer paid internships – they are normally advertised via the organisations’ own websites, so it is worth looking around.
Organisations which have offered internships/seminars in the past include:
The following websites offer volunteering opportunities
Try to stay in touch with those you take any work experience with so they can keep you informed of any other opportunities that come up and so you can contact them for practical advice on how to advance your career.
If you can't find the opportunities then make them! Send speculative applications to galleries, festivals, theatres - whatever you are interested in. Using your contacts and networking can be effective ways of gaining work experience, whether it is a paid placement or the opportunity to work shadow for a day. Look at our work experience page for more information.
Although you don't need to be a graduate for a career in arts administration, the majority of administrators are graduates with practical office skills and some business sense. Your degree subject is not always significant, but can be an advantage – particularly in music administration. Vacancies usually arise when someone resigns, and posts are filled as soon as possible. Graduate entry programmes are extremely rare but not unheard of.
Though there are frequent opportunities to get into the arts sector (administrators sometimes switch jobs as they look for new challenges and employment by different types of institution), the main issue in securing a job is the sheer number of candidates applying for the same position. The vacancies that are advertised will be found in the normal media - newspapers, magazines, specialist publications and websites. As competition for jobs in the sector is always strong and many vacancies are not advertised, it is important to make and maintain contacts through events and work experience in order to hear about potential opportunities.
Most advertised jobs will ask for previous relevant experience which you may not have. Don't despair; many successful careers begin with part-time voluntary or fixed term jobs that are never advertised, but familiarity with advertisements will help you to plan your portfolio of skills so that you will, in time, have the relevant experience. Similarly, skills gained from experience of finance, marketing, fund-raising or negotiation in other sectors could provide you with the background you need, although you will have to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the arts. An option is to consider gaining experience in a different profession (e.g. administration, HR, PR, marketing) to gain the skills of an arts administrator – it can help make you more employable for such roles.
Online vacancy websites:
You may also wish to join the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) as a student member to increase your networking opportunities.
Postgraduate study is not normally a prerequisite to attain an arts administration role, but it will help you develop specialist knowledge, a keener insight into the sector, and might furnish you with some industry contacts. Having a postgraduate qualification can also help you to stand out from the competition during the application stages. See here for some of the postgraduate study options in arts administration in the UK. Also see the Prospects website for further courses.
There is an increasing number of postgraduate courses in this area but you might do better to consider postgraduate study after you have gained relevant work experience. You can search for courses on the Prospects website. When choosing, be conscious of how it will be of benefit, as you will probably have to explain your choice to prospective employers who may have little experience of this relatively new area of education. Postgraduate qualifications will be of more use if you are interested in policy work at a national or international level, but research your choice of course carefully, and look at the levels of previous experience amongst course participants as well as their destinations upon graduation. Financial support is extremely limited although there may be some Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding available.
The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) supports an Advanced Certificate in Arts Marketing, in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, to provide the first accredited qualification in arts marketing in the UK. See website for details of this and other courses, as well as mentoring and networking opportunities for members.
Before deciding to take a postgraduate degree, it’s a good idea to look at the requirements of the roles you hope to work in to see whether they actually request a further degree. Also, contact alumni on LinkedIn to discover if they believe a postgraduate qualification helped them to secure a job (ask if their employers ever mentioned it being a factor in their selection). You could even talk to potential employers and ask if further study or a particular course is feature desirable in their candidates. Regardless, careers websites and most employers agree that further study is no substitute for work experience.
Creative & Cultural Skills is an industry-led organisation concerned with the development of education and skills in the sector.
Research Councils UK (RCUK) can sometimes provide funding for students interested in pursuing a further degree that could be useful to a student interested in arts administration.
Association of Arts Administration Educators - they have a heavy emphasis on postgraduate study in the US
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
This list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point: