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Arts & Heritage | The Careers Service Arts & Heritage – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

In the UK the cultural sector is a large and growing part of the economy. It incorporates:

  • Museums and Galleries (e.g. V&A, Tate, Museum of Oxford)
  • Science Centres (e.g. Science Museum, Science Oxford)
  • The Art Market (e.g. auction houses, art and antiques dealers and appraisers, commercial art galleries and tangentially, private finance or wealth managers, who work around art investment – see our advice for careers in Banking and Investment
  • Heritage (e.g. National Trust, English Heritage, Oxford Preservation Trust, archaeological services)
  • Theatre and Performance Organisations (e.g. Ambassador Theatre Group, English National Opera)

The cultural sector is supported by national and local government bodies, professional associations and a wide range of specialist service providers and freelancers.

Official statistics estimate that some 1.1mn people are employed in this sector, generating an estimated annual turnover of £15.1bn according to a report from the Arts Council England (July 2015). Historic England’s 2017 report (Heritage Counts 2017) suggests that growth in visitor numbers to historic properties is running at about 6% annually, and that the heritage sector alone employed nearly 300,000 people in 2014. NESTA’s attractive  interactive data visualisations offer an overview of employment in the UK creative economy and show that there is a significant orientation towards London, and also reports employment figures for women, BAME, graduates, London-based workers, and the size of the employment across various sub-sectors.

Types of job

Academic & curatorial

Curators acquire, research, display and explain/write about objects in their care, and are viewed as the academic experts for a collection. They usually have an academic background in a relevant field, and many advertisements for curators require postgraduate study. There are often Assistant Curators or Researchers in support roles at larger organisations. In auction houses a similar role is the Specialist. They progress to this role, usually through an internship, then a first role known as an ‘administrator’, then ‘senior administrator’; all these roles support the current specialist, while building deeper knowledge. Exhibitions Officers or Project Officers have a varied role planning, managing and presenting exhibitions and projects, working alongside the curator. They are not usually academic specialists. Although historically many have entered this work through volunteering, increasing competition for roles has made relevant professional qualifications (such as the Masters in Museums Studies), plus substantial work experience, highly desirable.

Information & collections

Collections Managers are responsible for the management of objects under an institution’s care, including their cataloguing, conservation, safety, acquisition and removal, storage and digital recording. In some larger institutions a Collections Manager might be supported by a ‘Collections Assistant’ role. A similar role, known as a Registrar, is also responsible for the objects, particularly their transportation to other museums/galleries or auctions. This may entail packing, arranging insurance and even travelling with the objects to ensure safe passage and suitable display. Photographers or Digital Managers would only typically be on staff in large institutions (other smaller bodies would hire-in this skill when needed). They’re used to document exhibitions and collections, and control and shape online content. All these roles are supported by Information Managers, Librarians and Archivists who work to record and facilitate use of materials by the institution’s clientele.

Production & conservation

In theatre, there is a vast array of backstage and production roles, and involved in university drama productions is a great way to build experience and gain insights into this work, with the University’s societies for drama (OUDS) and technicians and designers (TAFF). In heritage, Archaeologists, Archaeological Scientists and Finds Specialists are hired by some larger institutions to analyse items and contribute to reports and research about them (and sometimes work at a specific ‘dig’). Smaller organisations might not have this function on staff, but will hire in this skill from companies (such as Oxford Archaeologists). Conservators/Restorers seek to prevent the deterioration of objects and may sometimes be self-employed. Conservators tend to train and specialise in one class of object, e.g. paintings, and work closely with curators and designers. Many will have an interest in art, combined with a knowledge of chemistry, ICT or heritage techniques.

Administration & management

Administrator roles are vital in all organisations, and in the arts sector this role is a useful entry point. It can also lead to progression to more specialised work, including Marketing Officer, Fundraising (also known as Development), and ultimately to Senior Management positions. It is common to apply to other organisations for promotion opportunities. Other roles include IT, HR, Finance and Legal, although often people taking these roles will have prior experience and training  outside the sector. A growing commercial area is in Business/Product Development: this involves generating strategies and actions which will create new profits for the organisation. In theatre it is often known as Audience Development, in museums it often refers to the Sales and Merchandising of the museum products and branded concession shops.

Education & outreach

Education/Outreach Officers link arts organisations with the public. Their work includes the preparation and delivery of programmes, events and resources for schools and other visitors. Many will have a background in education or community work and education roles often specify a preference for applicants with qualified teacher status (QTS), or a relevant academic specialism.

Entry points

Graduate schemes

Unlike other sectors, there’s not an annual graduate recruitment cycle for cultural work, and few graduate schemes (some exceptions are the Ambassador Theatre Group scheme and the three years of graduate Arts Fundraising Fellowships: keep an eye on their website if you’re interested in arts fundraising).

Entry-level jobs

Nevertheless, there are lots of opportunities to get your first role in the arts and heritage sector, particularly after initial volunteering. In many cases it’s this experience which will lead to your first paid role, often at an ‘assistant’ level, although in some settings (particularly exhibition or gallery work) more than one period of voluntary experience or internship is common.

Further study

For roles listed within ‘Academic/Curatorial’, you’ll see that further study is often required in selection criteria for a job: usually a relevant doctorate or, at the least, a Masters for curatorial roles. For ‘Exhibitions Officer’ roles in the museums sector, competition has been the driving force behind the increasing requirement for a Masters in Museums Studies. However, this qualification is no guarantee of a job in the sector. In fact, a survey by the Museums Association warned that 1-4 years after graduating from an MA in Museums Studies (or equivalent) only 40% had a reasonable job in the sector. There are also many within the sector stating that they’re keen to give opportunities to those who haven’t had a chance to take that MA programme, so it’s certainly not an absolute prerequisite.

It’s usually a good strategy to make the decision about whether to undertake further study or not by trying the following:

  • Gain some experience (informal work experience, shadowing, internships or basic paid work) within the sector first.
  • Clarify your career ambitions – do you need further study for this? It’s not unusual to work for a couple of years while you get to know the sector to prevent a misplaced investment.
  • Research what courses are commonly sought in job listings, and ask those currently doing the role which they specifically might recommend.
  • Decide which course suits you: read about the experience of participants as well as gathering information on typical destinations upon completion.
  • Explore our advice on Postgraduate Study.

Lateral moves

It’s perfectly feasible to move from another sector into the arts and heritage sector, and it is particularly common to move from a role which gave you skill in an area of Administration or Management, with some relevant volunteering alongside. For roles such as finance or law, many will train outside of the sector, and then either move to serve an in-house team in a arts organisation, or remain within a specialist practice which has clients in the arts world who out-source their legal or finance work.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

Each individual role will have its own set of skills, but common themes seen in job adverts for this sector include:

  • Flexibility (particularly with fixed-term contracts, and funding changes)
  • Creativity
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Genuine interest/’love’ of art and culture
  • Initiative and drive
  • Evaluative skills
  • Strong organisational skills

Getting experience

There is no substitute for relevant experience and you should aim to acquire this as early as you can. Volunteer and get involved both whilst at Oxford and during vacations to ensure that your enthusiasm is backed by experience and expertise: sell tickets; organise publicity; work with customers; book outside performers; negotiate sponsorship; organise venues and transport; manage money and records so that you show employers proof of your relevant skills.

Start volunteering

For volunteering in Oxford and beyond:

Join relevant clubs & societies:

  • Oxford University societies
  • Oxford Hub – Volunteering hub, particularly look for arts, outreach and education
  • Alumni telethons, College Art Weeks, and similar are great ways to build your skills without even leaving the college grounds

Take internships

With many arts and heritage organisations listed as registered charities, there are more volunteering opportunities available than internships. Where formal internships are offered, they are likely to be listed alongside jobs and other opportunities. 

  • Use the websites listed under ‘External Resources’ to find advertised internships on job sites
  • Look at the ‘get involved’ or ‘about us’ pages of an organisation’s website to look for internships
  • Auction houses’ internships are generally only listed on their own websites. They are usually paid, and are designed to help be a ‘first rung’ on the ladder, so highly competitive.
  • Arts Admin has, in the past, offered a ‘traineeship’ scheme, with opportunities advertised around the autumn.
  • British Council’s Internship schemes give experience of an international cultural organisation
  • RSA’s internship scheme – helping the organisation find creative solutions to global challenges
  • Creative Access internships (mainly in the media, sometimes in arts organisations) are designed to help increase diversity in the field
  • The Burton Taylor Studio (Oxford Playhouse) runs a 3-week technical internship in late summer.
  • There are many, many more – set up a saved search on CareerConnect to get weekly emails about internships in this sector.

Shadowing & informal work experience

A huge amount of great work experience happens as a result of informal discussions. Information Interviewing is the process of asking people who work in the field for advice and suggestions for experience opportunities. To find people to approach try:

  • Oxford Careers Network
  • Your college alumni office
  • LinkedIn (see the Arts Administration Network for example)
  • Telling all your friends/family/tutors what you’re looking for – you’d be surprised who they know and who they may be able to suggest

Temporary & seasonal work

There are dozens of events and festivals (literary; arts; music; theatre) where you might be able to secure paid work and/or free entry if volunteering:

  • Look for box-office or front-of-house roles in local arts venues – research on the individual festival website, or use sites that provide information on multiple festivals, e.g. Festaff
  • Explore vacancy websites listed under ‘External Resources’ – many roles listed are not permanent
  • Consider a speculative approach. For example, if you have IT (or design/ marketing/ translation etc.) skills, and could improve a local arts organisation’s work, get in touch to suggest a project you could do. They may be willing to pay!

Funding work experience

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer (many arts organisations are registered charities). To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

If you are offered valuable experience which is unpaid, some funding options include:

  • Asking the employer whether adjustments might be made which could make the experience more accessible for you. These include offering expenses, flexible hours, ‘working from home’ days, or reducing the length or days-per-week to allow time to take other paid work.
  • Roman Society – Eight £250 bursaries for museums internships, deadline usually in May.
  • Association of Art Historians – Two bursaries of up to £2000 for internships in museums, heritage or visual arts internships, deadline in April.
  • Check with your college or department to see if there are any funds which may be available to you
Getting a job

Recruitment is commonly sporadic throughout the year. Use our recommended websites under ‘External resources’ to find roles.

Roles are advertised based on need from the organisation: seasonal events, new funding, new projects or roles becoming vacant. That means that you can be putting in applications over a long period of time – don’t give up though, there are lots of things you can do in the meantime:

Be flexible

Temporary jobs (which are less sought after) are often an initial step that enable aspiring arts professionals to demonstrate their ability, network with others and continue to learn and develop. They are often found in organisations in receipt of short-term funding, or seasonal events such as major cultural festivals.

Think laterally

  • Skills gained from other industries could provide you with some transferable experience, particularly when coupled with relevant volunteering.
  • You could work for an organisation that ‘serves’ the arts and heritage sector. There are specialist firms that work mainly or only with this field, including architects, manufacturers, events companies, marketers, consultancies, printers, shippers, packagers, conservators, insurers, trainers, recruiters and many more. Many of the professional association websites listed in ‘External Resources’ have supplier directories which can help find them.


  • Read our advice on networking
  • Join professional associations as a student member to access networking events
  • Talk to alumni mentors on the Oxford Careers Network (on CareerConnect)
  • Add professionals in the sector you’ve worked with before on LinkedIn
  • Keep in touch with your contacts – let them know when you’re job seeking (you never know what unadvertised opportunities they might send your way)

Keep up your interest

  • Even if you have to take something else in the meantime, keep volunteering
  • Keep abreast of sector news (see the ‘External Resources’ list below)

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

  • Creative Access internships (mainly in the media, sometimes in arts organisations) are designed to help increase diversity in the field, offering 12 month internships, mentoring and sector specific events for recent graduates.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, as well as what you need to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the UK Government: Discrimination webpages.

Our resources

Online resources

Podcasts of past events

Heritage, Museums & Visual Arts

In this podcast, Lucy Shaw, Oxford University Museums Partnerships Manager and Verity Slater, Director of Communications and Development at Modern Art Oxford tell us more about their career path into the sector. They cover what their jobs entail (the best aspects, and the least good aspects too), as well as how they made their way from student to their current role. In the Q&A section we are joined by Holly Harris, Development Officer at the V&A.

History of Art

This podcast, recorded at an event at the History of Art department, features information on alumni careers in general and two fantastic speakers working in museums and galleries.

External resources

General art & heritage websites

  • Arts Jobs – Job site by Arts Council England, wide ranging
  • CC Skills – Advice and jobs for creative, heritage, visual arts and theatre
  • Young Professionals in the Arts – diverse range of job site links
  • Arts Job Finder – Job site run by Arts Professional magazine, covering some museums and general arts management, with a number of theatre and performance organisations represented.
  • Culture 360 – See Opportunities for international jobs, mainly in Asia and Europe
  • Arts Hubs – Wide ranging job site, from curatorial, sales, performance and administration (members only to view some, covers UK, Italy, Australia, USA and Japan)
  • Arts, Culture, Media Jobs – Smaller job site, but with some interesting roles in performance, design, media, culture and arts education.
  • Creative Opportunities – UAL’s creative sector jobs board, but you can register if you’re outside of that university too.
  • New York Foundation for the Arts – classifieds – unsuprisingly, mainly for NYC
  • Join LinkedIn groups (you can generally join before you work in the area) to read discussions, find out about other jobs and learn key issues in the sector. Examples include the Arts Administration network, Museum Association group, Theatre Producers group…

Museums & galleries

Science centres

Art market

  • Antique Trade Gazette – See Directories and Jobs/Courses
  • Art Net– ‘Products’ includes lots of art market insight tools. See ‘Careers’ for sporadic opportunities
  • Art Tactic – Art market research business, with free insight podcasts
  • Art Info – lots of news for the sector, good for learning more
  • Art Info job board – mainly commercial opportunities
  • The Art Newspaper – News, and a well-developed job board too

If you’re exploring a career in commercial galleries or art investment, check out these reading recommendations from Patricia Baker-Cassidy at Art Jericho:

  • Sarah Thornton, Seven Days In The Art World
  • Don Thompson, The $12 Million stuffed Shark: The curious economics of contemporary art
  • Richard Polsky, I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)

These are not held at the Careers Service, but you might like to find them on SOLO in the wider university library collections.


Theatre & performance organisations

Recruitment agencies

This information was last updated on 19 July 2018.
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