Meet the Professionals
Place of work: Maximillian William, London
Managing the organisation of exhibitions from concept research to exhibition delivery
BA History of Art, Nottingham University
Barbican Centre, London; Lakeside Arts, Nottingham; Nottingham Contemporary
"When you go to a job interview and you say that you've been writing this blog, or made this platform, or doing this podcast, have this instagram, all that stuff is valuable and it shows that you really care and that you will be a very valuable employee."
Notes and links
Art UK is an arts charity that has an extensive catalogue of digitised artworks from many British institutions. It also publishes online articles.
Elephant Magazine is contemporary arts online and print publication.
Maximillian William is a commercial gallery in Fitzrovia, specialised in contemporary art.
The Barbican Centre is a performing arts centre in London that hosts music and theatre performances, as well as film screenings and art exhibitions.
The Institute of International Visual Art is a visual arts organisation based in London.
In partnership with INIVIA, this is a 12-month full time curatorial traineeship. An undergraduate degree in Art, Art History or related subject is required. Black, Asian and ethnic minorities candidates are encouraged to apply.
A loan agreement is the contract made between a lender, typically a museum, a gallery or private collector and a borrower. Loan agreements are necessary when an institution is lending an artwork, whether that is for a temporary exhibition or a long-term loan to another institution.
An art fair is an event where art dealers and artists show their artworks to collectors and curators for purchase.
Art press refers to all publications, print or digital, that cover art and culture subjects and news.
Chloe Austin: I think when you are young and you’re new to the profession, it’s good to kind of gain skills from the ground up.
Julie Bléas: Hi everyone! Welcome back to Hang it, the online platform where we try to navigate careers in the art world and learn from friendly professionals along the way. I’m Julie and for today’s episode, I’m delighted to welcome Chloe Austin as our guest. Hi Chloe!
JB: Thank you so much for chatting to me today on this rather gloomy Monday morning. So before we get started and start to discuss all things jobs and careers, could you please introduce yourself to our listeners?
CA: Hi, I’m Chloe. I currently work as exhibition and research manager at a gallery in London called Maximillian William. Previous to this I was a curatorial assistant at the Barbican Centre.
I just generally love arts and culture. I try and write as much as possible so I’m working on a couple writing projects at the moment, that’s super exciting and a nice thing to do to be more creative.
JB: Yeah that sounds great! So today we're going to really talk about your job at Maximillian William, which is, if people don’t know, a commercial gallery in London. So first up, could you tell me in your own words, what your job at the gallery entails?
CA: Lots of things. I work as part of a really small team so my job is quite multifaceted. As the title implies, I manage all the exhibitions and all the core research that goes along that for the gallery. So some of my job is very creative. I get to speak to lots of artists, write press releases, work with other curators. I get to do research for exhibitions and put together exhibition proposals. I get to speak with other galleries. And the other side of my job is more practical and more so administration. Such as actually practically coordinating getting artworks at the gallery for exhibitions. So things like logistics, insurance, loan agreements...And just generally the day-to-day running of the gallery. A really nice part of my job is that when we have visitors in the gallery I get to do walk-throughs. So yeah, that’s my job in a nutshell!
JB: What is the part of your job you are enjoying the most right now?
CA: There’s a lot going on in London I think in the arts outside of institutions and I think sometimes when you work inside an institution you can be quite disconnected from that. Whereas now I feel like, because I am living in the city and I am working in Fitzrovia and I am near to all the galleries in the area, I’m really learning about what all the galleries are doing, and things like art press which I maybe didn’t pay that much attention to when I was at Barbican and now feel way more involved in. So I feel like my conversations about art are really evolving.
JB: Well that sounds really great. In the position you are right now and as things are now, what sort of career progression do you see for yourself?
CA: I think I will probably grow as the gallery grows, my career will grow and change. At the moment we got one space in London and we do lots of collaborating with other galleries and we’re thinking about fairs and stuff like that. As the gallery grows and takes on more projects, I’ll grow with those projects if that makes sense.
JB: Great. What sort of experience did you have before landing your job?
CA: Before I spent a year working with the Barbican and the Institute of International Visual Arts also known as INIVA as a curatorial trainee. I gained lots of skills, sort of curatorial skills through that. I got to see lots of elements of how the arts work because I was working at a very big institution and also working for a very small institution. When I was at Barbican, I was talking to lots of commercial galleries about loans and now that I work at a commercial gallery, it’s almost like being on the other side when people are loaning works from us and stuff like that. That definitively prepared me for my current role. Before that I was at university and did an Art History degree, which is obviously a great foundation for working in the arts but I don’t think it is always necessary. While I was there, I was working and volunteering at lots of different galleries as well. I was studying up at Nottingham which was a really great place to study because the art scene there is very small but thriving and there's a lot of energy, there’s lots of artists and spaces. I did lots of different things, I was volunteering with arts education projects and I eventually got an actual job working in an art club and I worked as an invigilator at the contemporary art gallery up there. So I definitely think I gained lots of experience whilst I was studying which then enabled me to go straight from university into that great job with Barbican/INIVA.
JB: Something I was really interested in is something you said earlier about working in a smaller institution. Is that an aspect of your job that you were quite interested about?
CA: Yeah definitely. I think having spent the time in two institutions, virtually parallel to each other, I realised that I could progress more in a smaller institution. I think when you are young and you’re new to the profession, it’s good to kind of gain skills from the ground up. And also generally when you’re working with other teams, I think it’s important to actually understand what those teams are doing. It’s important to know what’s possible as well as a curator I think.
JB: Especially positions in smaller institutions allow you to learn so much and so many aspects of one position. And when you are in your early and mid twenties, it’s so valuable to be able to learn practical things on the job.
As you know, our audience are mainly young graduates and people that are entering the professional world right now. Looking back on your own experience, what would be a piece of valuable advice that you’d give to someone who’s really keen to start working in the industry?
CA: I think get involved with whatever you can. Like what you guys with Hang it, there’s a lot of time to be investing in your own ideas and I think that’s so valuable. When you go to a job interview and you say that you've been writing this blog, or made this platform, or doing this podcast, have this instagram, all that stuff is valuable and it shows that you really care and that you will be a very valuable employee. You are bringing added value like ‘wow, this person can really do things and they are really self motivated’. And by doing self-motivated projects, you’ll find that paid projects will follow. If you start writing a blog and you enjoy writing, start pitching to places. I know that a lot of art press take pitches, I think Art UK takes pitches, Elephant (Magazine) takes pitches. I’m sure a lot of other sorts of art press do. But I struggle to be like ‘work for free’ because that was never an option for me, I don’t come from a background where I was able to do that. That’s why I probably did so much volunteering at university because of thank god for student loans, I was able to not have to spend my working. I do think that right now, because a lot of people are out of work and looking for work, I think it’s good to split your time between applying for jobs but also working on your own projects. Working for yourself for free is very different from working for other people for free. Actually viewing that as investing in yourself rather ‘oh I’m doing free work’. Also apply for the jobs you want, which sounds like the most obvious piece of advice ever but I feel like but don’t spread yourself too thinly or like know where to put your energy.
JB: That is such valuable advice, finding a balance. So finally, in the position you are occupying right now, do you really think you need a PhD?
CA: Absolutely not. Doing a PhD is such a luxury that I think most people can not afford. And it really frustrates me that in the arts it seems like there is a real issue with overqualification. You are constantly being told that you need - I don’t even have a masters - but I remember seeing a position at the V&A, I’m going to call them out by name! They had a position that was like some volunteering position, you weren’t going to get paid on it and it required a Masters degree. Especially the fact that it was voluntary and you didn’t get paid any money absolutely locked out anyone from a working class background out of the job. People are posting about how it is impossible to get any experience or any jobs because they don’t have the formal background that institutions seem to value. And it’s super frustrating because all these institutions are trying to get into different communities, or at least they claim to be, but they won’t hire people who come from non traditional backgrounds. I’m just going all ‘Vive la Revolution’! on you *laughs*
JB: Thank you so much for your time Chloe, it’s been a real pleasure.
CA: Thanks for having me.
JB: Yeah it’s been so great having you on Hang it and being able to listen to your wonderful insight. Where can we find you, any of your work and all your wonderful writing?
CA: You can follow me on instagram which is @chloejaayaustin, you can follow me on there, I kind of post what I’m doing and different projects.
JB: Great, fantastic! Well, as always, all resources mentioned in this episode will be available on our website and don’t forget to check out our instagram @hangitcollective for all updates and exciting content.