Museum and gallery jobs: the impact of Covid-19

As with many sectors in the UK, museums and galleries are suffering after multiple local and nationwide lockdowns due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Following many months of closure in the past year, it is clear that the road to recovery will be long, with more challenges ahead.

stained glass roof

The closure periods have meant that museums and galleries have suffered severely reduced income without visitors to their exhibitions and on site events, and without café and shop sales. After the first lockdown, huge efforts were made to ensure that venues were accessible and safe for the public to return. However, with such a reduction in income, and without a venue deemed as ‘Covid-secure’, some institutions may not be able to re-open their doors, and are facing permanent closure.

What does this mean for jobs in the sector?  

  • In the short term, the result of reduced income for museums and galleries is inevitably a reduction in staff numbers through redundancies. There has been much in the news recently about museum staff redundancies, even at nationals such as the Tate and Science Museum. The Museums Association paints quite a bleak outlook for the sector through their tracking of redundancies in the UK. According to the latest data (February 2021), close to 4,000 people have been made redundant since the beginning of the Covid crisis.
  • Ultimately, this will mean that there is more competition for fewer jobs, so with fewer jobs available, museum workers may choose to stay in their current positions for longer, meaning career progression can slow down or become more difficult. Some museum staff are making the difficult decision to leave the sector entirely.

 

What should I do if I want to work in a museum or gallery?

  • Remember that your career is a long game. The jobs market is likely to be affected by Covid-19 for some time, but you will have many years of working life ahead of you. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t secure your ‘dream job’, or in fact any museum or gallery job immediately after graduating.
  • Take all opportunities that come your way. Even if you have to accept a job in a different sector, no experience is wasted and transferable skills such as communication skills, team working, attention to detail, working to deadlines etc. are valuable regardless of where the skills are gained. This report from Nesta gives some ideas of skills that are particularly relevant and transferrable to galleries and museums.
  • Contact with your local museum or gallery for some voluntary experience. Traditionally, museum volunteers are of an older age, and this age group is currently more likely to be staying away from public areas, so some museums are actively looking for students and young people to join them as volunteers. When applying, be specific about the sort of experience you would like to gain and the time you have available, so that you get the most from it – e.g. working with the public, handling objects, gaining office skills etc.
  • Engage with the sector. Many museums and galleries have improved their online and social media presence to engage with audiences during the closure periods. Make the most of the opportunity to connect with institutions that you wouldn’t normally be able to visit in person – follow them on social media, visit virtual exhibitions or attend online events. Also look out for @MuseumHour on twitter for weekly chats on all things museums-related.
  • Consider joining the Museums Association to keep up to date with developments in the sector. The MA offers reduced membership fees for students.

Blog written by Eleanor Chant, who studied History of Art & Italian at Reading University, graduating in 2009. She is now the Gallery Registrar at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

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