Meet the Professionals
Pronouns: Him / He
Location: Royston / London
Place of work: Mtec Fine Art
Salary bracket: £35,000 - 45,000
Project management, coordination and administration for complex logistics in handling, transport and installation of artworks for galleries, institutions and private clients.
Foundation in Art and Design, Hull College
BA Fine Art, University of Cumbria
MLitt History of Art and Art World Practice, Christie's Education / University of Glasgow
New Art Centre, Wiltshire; William Crozier Artist's Estate; Artliner - The Wind Tunnel Project; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery
"If there is a company you are interested in working for - contact them and speak to them and meet with them if you can and try to understand what they are doing and how you can fit into that environment."
Notes and links
Mtec is the Art Logistics company Chris works for that offers special solutions for art handling, installation and art transport. Mtec works with artists, commercial galleries, collectors and public museums worldwide to help handle, transport, store and install all sorts of artworks.
An Art Handler is someone who is trained and employed to physically move pieces of art whether that is picking an artwork up and moving it across a room, wrapping it up to protect it or even installing it in a gallery.
The world of art transportation is an important one! All artworks will likely have to move from place to place in their lifetime, whether by car, van, ship or plane. Art transport companies specialise in making these trips happen.
If you deal with logistics you basically handle all the really important stuff that has to happen for a project to be realised. This could be organising vehicles, managing teams of people, creating schedules or overseeing budgets. Logistics are what make a project happen.
Fabricate is a fancy word for ‘make’ or ‘create’. If you ‘fabricate a box or crate for an artwork, you make it from scratch and to the dimensions of that artwork. Likewise, if you help ‘fabricate’ an artwork, you are involved in the making process.
An art technician is someone who safely wraps, moves, unpacks, installs and de-installs art without damaging the items, people or property. See another interview with transport company Crown Fine Art here for more info.
A curator is someone who very broadly creates the exhibitions that you see. A curators’ job can be very varied, depending on the type of place they work but usually involves a fair amount of research, in order to understand the artworks and artists they are working with, project planning, relationship building and creative communication strategies.
Nitrile gloves are made from synthetic rubber. They are stronger and more resistant to damage than latex, and offer better grip when handling artworks. They also protect the artworks against oils and dirt on your hands, preventing any fingerprints. Nitrile gloves are usually blue or purple.
Foundation in Art and Design
An art foundation year is a year of study where you have the opportunity to explore many different creative practices and build up your portfolio. You gain a BTEC qualification, and if you are a UK student under the age of 18 on the 31 August the year your start your course - it is often free!
An (undergraduate) degree involves three years of study in a particular subject. Not all careers require a degree, and you can gain the equivalent in other ways such as apprenticeships.
A masters is a further educational step taken after an undergraduate degree to help you specialise your knowledge and pursue a specific avenue of academic interest. Some art world jobs require a Masters, but increasingly companies are having to remove this from their job spec.
A PhD (A Doctor of Philosophy) is the highest academic qualification you can get, and you are called a Doctor once you get one (even if you don’t work in medicine.) They usually take between 3-4 years, during which time you develop a new area of research for a field. Many people’s PhDs form the basis for a book.
Chris Sullivan: That mystery role was the thing that I think I was chasing.
Annie Birchenough: Hello and welcome to Hang it, a new online platform offering resources to young people looking to enter the art world. My name is Annie and today I am going to be chatting to an old friend and colleague of mine - Chris Sullivan. Hello Chris.
CS: Hello Annie
AB: Chris you have a very interesting and in some ways mysterious job in that you work for an art transport, installation and storage company. It would be great if you could start just by shedding some light on this part of the industry.
CS: For sure. So, in very simple terms, when an artwork isn’t on display in a gallery it may be in storage somewhere and in order to get it to or from where it is installed it needs to be handled packed maybe moved into another room, maybe moved by road, or air or sea to get to wherever else it needs to be. So, a company that deals in art handling and logistics will look after moving an artwork from where it is to where it needs to go.
AB: It is so interesting because I think people just forget that that is a part of what needs to happen in order to see what you are looking at in a museum.
CS: I think that is an enormous thing; it can sometimes be the last thing – weirdly – that is thought of. It’s ‘oh yeah we need to get it here.’
AB: And in terms of the different jobs that are available in your company specifically – is there a great range of things that people can do?
CS: For sure there is a huge range, so you will have technicians who are on the ground physically moving, handling, packing objects at various locations. Then you will have drivers of course, you will have people working in offices coordinating the movement of said technicians and art works. Case making or other fabrication types relating to artworks, and technicians again that are specific to those sectors. Warehouses as well. You will have warehouses with people working specifically in warehouses, handling things in and out and coordinating that aspect of it as well.
AB: And so what is your specific role within that?
CS: So I am a project manager I am predominantly office based. Looking after, coordinating various aspects of that process of moving artworks from one place to another.
AB: So your job is very logistical but not necessarily as hands on all the time?
CS: That’s fair yes, I will sometimes find myself on site either before a job, part of a site visit to scope out a job, and if I am on site yes I will sometimes get my hands dirty but yes it is usually in an overseeing, client facing capacity rather than in a hole, digging.
AB: What do you love about your role and what do you find maybe more challenging about what you do?
CS: The projects that I am generally working on are complex so the huge challenge but also the very rewarding part of that is in overcoming whatever challenge there is. Often its large and complex artworks often going into not particularly accessible places and working out the ways in which that needs to happen. There is a lot of admin involved in that and a lot of my role is administrative and coordinating various different things to happen.
AB: So I think it would be great now to hear a bit more about how you got to where you are now?
CS: I definitely didn’t set out thinking that I would end up in art transport specifically. When I started looking at jobs in the art world I think what I expected was to be working in a museum or gallery. I think equally I wanted to be working with the object itself. I studied art and design at school. I did an art foundation course in Art and Design which led onto a three year degree again in Fine Art. During that time I would work as much as I could with putting together exhibitions, no matter how large or small. I pursued some sort of career in working with art that I didn't make, although when I started doing that I didn't really know what that was. I think I maybe thought that there was Artist, Curator and various other mystery jobs that went into making stuff happen. That mystery role was the thing that I think I was chasing. I did a masters in History of Art and Art World Practice, and during that time I was doing a degree on unpaid and paid internships here and there and taking any opportunity that I could to work with galleries, large and small. In a round and about way that led to Gallery Assistant role in a commercial art gallery in Wiltshire. Eventually was the Gallery Manager there. I was involved in organising transport and logistics in and out of the gallery. So quite kind of organically, I took on the sort of work that I discovered I was interested in. That led me to take on a role with an art handling firm which was working with objects in a similar sort of way, but more specifically than it was in a commercial art gallery.
AB: I know from our conversations that you had a long period of job hunting, I think that is an experience that a lot of people are having right now, particularly with the pandemic and i would be just interested to hear what your experience of job hunting was like and any kind of advice or top tips you might have for somebody who is in the depths of that process right now.
CS: It can be soul destroying and its *laughs* yeah it's a long and difficult process. My experience was in getting that first full time role that was the really tricky thing to do. I think the big thing to remember is keep trying and don't feel guilty about contacting people in anything you are interested in. Also, don't be afraid to apply to the same place twice. My first role I applied to that job twice. It came up two months apart. The first time I heard nothing, the second time I got the job. You don't know the reasons why these things are happening. You are sort of imaging a whole institution is saying no we don't want you but that is not what's happening. As difficult as it is, you can't take it personally. Just keep practicing and the more applications you write, the better you will get at doing them.
AB: And on that note, what advice would you have for somebody who is beginning to think about looking at art transport and art handling as a career and think that might be something they are interested in? Where should they be looking and what should they be doing to kind of enter that path I guess?
CS: It is a very good question. I would say that most art handling companies, in the UK, are, I would say, generally open to being contacted by people that are really interested. If there is a company you are interested in working for, contact them and speak to them and meet them if you can, try and understand what they’re doing and how you can fit into that environment. If it is physically art handling, you go in at the start and you learn on the job. I know that a lot of the people that I work with at Mtec started as technicians 15, 20 years ago and are now managing teams and travelling the world. I think that's probably the best way.
AB: So i think that there is actually quite a lot of mystery around art handling. And I'd love to ask some quick fire myth buster questions.
CS: Fire away.
AB: Do you have to wear white gloves to handle artworks?
CS: Not all the time. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes nitrile gloves will do and sometimes you’ll be digging a hole.
AB: Sure. Do you get to travel a lot for your job?
CS: I travel much less. I might do local, into London. Some of my peers will be travelling around the world.
AB: Are your working hours a normal nine till five?
CS: Yes, pretty much.
AB: With the exception of night-time installations.
CS: With the exception of night-time installations.
AB: Do you have to have expert skills in art handling to do what you do?
CS: No, I think the thing that helps most is having an understanding and an interest in how things move, come together. But I haven't had any training in handling. I've picked it all up as I've gone along.
AB: And, do you need a PhD to do what you do Chris?
CS: I don't think you need a PhD to do what I do. And to be honest, you don’t need a masters. You don't necessarily need a university degree. The route that I’ve taken, I'm happy with and has worked, but there are a thousand other ways that you could have ended up in the role that I am doing what I do.
AB: I think that will be very reassuring to our listeners. But thank you so much, it has been an absolute pleasure and fascinating to hear about this slightly lesser known side of the industry I think. If people wanted to learn a bit more about what you are up to or to maybe even get in touch, where would they be able to find you?
CS: You could look me up on LinkedIn, reach out if you want any advice or a chat about, yeah, anything.
AB: That's great. And thank you everyone for listening! As always we provide links to the mentioned opportunities and resources and anything discussed in the episode on the Hang it website. Do follow us on Instagram @hangitcollecitve, all one word, and of course rate, review and share our podcast on your usual platform. And we will look forward to seeing you all in our next episode of Hang it.
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