Jan Murphy has owned and operated Jan Murphy Gallery, one of Brisbane’s leading commercial art galleries, for two decades. During this time, she’s played an important role both in the commercial gallery scene, and in nurturing the careers of her artists and staff. This month we asked Jan, a UQ Art History Alumna, for her thoughts on how graduates can prepare for employment and success in the arts.
Q: What are some of the key skills, experiences and attributes that graduates seeking work in art museums or galleries should develop?
A: Curatorial, collection and registration experience is fantastic. Strong computer skills, especially in database program such as Filemaker, and a basic knowledge of photography and the ability to resize images through Photoshop is imperative. They should be comfortable dealing with, and speaking in front of, the general public.
Q: Gallerists play an important role in launching and sustaining artists’ careers – is a different skill set required to succeed in this area of the industry, as opposed to a public art institution?
A: This is something that develops over time; the longer you work with artists. A strong relationship with institutional curatorial staff should be nurtured and a deep understanding of an artist’s personality and practice is also necessary. Again, this only comes with time.
Q: When you pick up a CV or an expression of interest, what impresses you most and sets a candidate apart?
A: Obviously a new graduate will not have a lot of experience and I never expect them to. I do look for someone who is passionate about the arts and someone who has shown initiative in a tough industry, i.e. volunteer work. I also look at basic things such as the layout of their CV, font and grammatical accuracy. You would be surprised at how many people address me as ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’ when writing to me. A basic knowledge of the person you are writing to is essential! It is also wise to add something specific about the gallery – there is nothing worse than knowing you are only one of many galleries who have been approached.
Q: From your perspective, what are the job prospects in Queensland and interstate for graduates in Art History/Museum Studies, and how can students prepare themselves for success?
A: Don’t wait until you graduate before making yourself known in the industry. Visit the galleries or institutions you are keen to work with on a regular basis. Be prepared to travel to learn, or to take a job interstate or overseas.
Q: If you were to reflect on your experience as a UQ Art History graduate who has forged an impressive career in the arts, were there paths you pursued that you feel contributed to your success?
A: When I first graduated I went immediately into an administrative role at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Victoria. I was fortunate enough to work under the directorship of Maudie Palmer AO, who taught me so much. When I decided to open my own gallery it was without any previous commercial experience. I had no clients and no artists, and in retrospect, it seems like a ridiculous decision. I should have gained experience in a commercial gallery first – life would have been a lot easier! In saying that, learning the hard way also has its benefits. Possibly the smartest thing I ever did was to find a friend and mentor in Philip Bacon AM who has owned and operated Philip Bacon Galleries for over 40 years. His advice has been invaluable.