Since graduating from Kent in 2011, Emma Mills has used her creative skills to forge a successful career within the museums and galleries sector. Twelve years on, having worked for the likes of Tate, the British Museum and Art Fund, Emma knows a thing or two about breaking into the industry. Her advice? Get as much experience as you can!
For anyone who wants to get into the sector, try to gain as much varied experience as possible.
‘I studied English and American literature with History and Philosophy of Art, now called Art history. I’m pleased I did a joint honours degree; I probably wouldn’t be where I am now otherwise. I studied so many different modules and learnt about a broad range of subjects. I just studied what I enjoyed, so I wouldn’t say I had a specialism, but in that respect, I was able to figure out what I was most passionate about. I remember one of my lecturers taking us to Camden Arts Centre for the first time and it just blew me away. It opened my eyes to contemporary art.
After I graduated, I worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Turner Contemporary in Margate which helped to get my foot in the door into the museum sector. I then secured an internship in Art Fund’s Development department, helping with fundraising and their work with donors and patrons. I helped with some of their events as part of the internship, and that’s when my career in events really kicked off.
Once the internship ended, I spent a short time at The Royal Watercolour Society – a little gallery on Bankside – before getting a job at the British Museum as an Internal Events Officer. I was responsible for planning and delivering private viewings and openings for major exhibitions. From there, I moved to Tate, operating across Tate Britain and Tate Modern. As a Senior Development Events Manager, my role focused on Tate’s patrons and donors, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to plan and join them on a two-week contemporary art tour of Bangladesh and India! It was an amazing experience and very worthwhile in terms of career development.
Then, in 2018, I went full circle! I returned to Art Fund as a Senior Events Manager but later seconded to my current role as a Project Manager for Art Fund Museum of the Year, an annual award that showcases the best museums in the sector. I keep everything on track in terms of campaigns, communications, marketing, digital creations, social media – all sorts. I wrangle the team, I guess! I’m also heavily involved in reading the application papers, scoring them against certain criteria and liaising with our panel of judges who have the hard decision to make – who gets to win?!
I’m also a big advocate for improving accessibility to museums and galleries which Art Fund does lots of great work towards. Coming from a working-class background, I wasn’t exposed to the world I’m in now, so I want to help as many people as possible to gain new experiences.
One of the best things about my job is that every year feels new. Although the premise of the award stays the same, I’m always discovering new museums and galleries and working with different people across the sector. I’m also a big advocate for improving accessibility to museums and galleries which Art Fund does lots of great work towards. Coming from a working-class background, I wasn’t exposed to the world I’m in now, so I want to help as many people as possible to gain new experiences.
For anyone who wants to get into the sector, try to gain as much varied experience as possible. And explore different routes into working with museums and galleries; you don’t have to be a curator, there are so many areas you can work in. But most importantly, don’t lose heart, that’s my best piece of advice. It’s a very popular sector to break into but reach out and speak to as many people in your area of interest as you can. Just getting advice is a good way of making connections and starting to network.