A day as an art gallery manager

November 19, 2019
Case Studies

The Brave Starts team headed out to Hoxton on a chilly but sunny Wednesday morning in order to check out our latest shadow success story. The first thing that strikes us both is that Hoxton is indeed very cool and “arty”. We are on our way to Nelly Duff, a contemporary printing gallery buzzing with activity, and we are here to see Alice Marinia in action as she shadows the gallery manager Bee in preparation for one of the gallery’s large exhibitions.

The Nelly Duff gallery currently has two directors and has been around for over a decade. It focuses on contemporary urban artists with print runs that can easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Alice is keen to show us around but is aware that there is still a lot to prepare for the exhibition:

“This is the type of thing you can’t really research online”, she says. “The absolute attention to detail required when packing a print, or how to catalogue the various artwork, or how to hang and re-hang art in the gallery. In fact, the absolute best way to describe the value of shadowing is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall. You get to take it all in; all aspects and the reality of running a gallery. You don’t get that from all the online research in the world.

I get instant feedback on my questions, I have a whole new vocabulary I didn’t even realise I needed. I have really felt part of the team as I have been able to get stuck in and help during such a busy time.”

Of course everyone acknowledges that a mere couple of days is not enough to absorb even a fraction of what is needed to actually become a gallery manager, in fact it is more likely to take something like three to six months to really settle in, but it does give you a true flavour of the real job and whether it’s something you would want to pursue. In Alice’s case the answer is an absolute yes:

“Without a doubt, this is what I want to do, so now it’s a question of getting out there and apply for jobs, which I finds myself in a much better position to do now that that I have had some real hands on experience a well as some incredibly helpful advice from Bee, who has helped with my cover letter and my CV. I had already done an incredible amount of research and even had a shortlist of over 50 galleries to send my CV and cover letter to, but she stopped me before I managed to send them all out, helped me sharpen my letter and now I feel like I am in a much more favourable position to send them out and actually get positive responses. Genuinely, I would recommend job shadowing to anyone who is serious about taking that next step into their dream career.”

Indeed this is something that Bee echoes when we talk about how to get into gallery management:

“We get over 800 applicants for one place, but it is actually quite easy to whittle them down to about 50 or so simply by eliminating those who

- Are not within the deadline

- Have a generic covering letter

- Apply within minutes of the ad going out, as there is simply no way they have read all the requirements etc

- Have cover letters with spelling mistakes in. Get someone, or even more than one person, to look through it!

Some words of wisdom before they both excuse themselves and carry on with the preparations for their upcoming exhibition.

For more information on the Nelly Duff gallery, visit https://www.nellyduff.com

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Lucy Standing

Lucy Standing is a business psychologist and co-founder of Brave Starts