The art world is a multibillion-dollar global industry that continues to expand, creating new job opportunities in every sector. In New York City alone, according to US government data released last year by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, the city’s creative sector employed 295,755 people—accounting for 7% of all jobs. So, how can you set yourself apart from the competition and become a valuable asset for the art world’s top employers? As a prelude to the Sotheby’s Institute career fairs—taking place at the London and New York campuses on April 12—we asked a few of the fairs’ participating experts from all corners of the industry to share their advice on what it takes to succeed in the art world. Here’s what they said.
Qualities for Success
At Sotheby’s Institute, our network of industry experts and employers have come together to identify four key qualities to develop for career success.
“Everyone is looking for someone who is exceptional at building relationships,” shared the Institute’s New York Career Services Director, Ashley Devenish Robinson. But what does that entail, exactly? How does one become good at building relationships in the art world? First key step, make sure to “know your stuff,” advised Tazie Taysom at ARTIQ, an innovative art rental and consultancy that supports local artists while boasting clients across the corporate world and luxury market. Receive a solid art history foundation and keep developing your passion through experience – read art publications, and go to galleries and museums. The art knowledge you acquire through academic and hands-on education is essential in building relationships and gaining trust with clients.
For today’s job market, however, appreciation of art history and current trends alone, are not enough. As Steven Kaminski of The Art Newspaper said, “you have to balance that love of art with the practicality of running a business…stay true to the spirit of creative expression while knowing as a business you have bills to pay.” Make sure to develop business acumen and practical skills in tandem with art education—they are just as important for art world success and might even help you get noticed by employers. At ARTIQ, for instance, having consistent internship and work experience—even throughout one’s academic education—is something that puts potential hires at the top of the list, Tazie Taysom shared.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit is another key attribute that art world employers are seeking. As Zoe Mogridge, Director of Career Services at Sotheby’s Institute-London, explained, “being able to spot opportunity, work independently and collaboratively, and act on new ideas and innovations,” can all help inform and develop businesses within the art world, as the industry continues to shift and transform.
Above all, advised Jasmin Pelham of Pelham Communications, a leading visual arts agency integrating all aspects of communications for clients across the globe, “any professional working in the art world needs to communicate effectively.” How? Learn people skills, develop a high level of emotional intelligence, and polish your verbal and written communication. And don't forget to train your ability to stay focused and keep a cool head in a fast-paced, demanding environment with a wide-ranging clientele.
Prospects for the Future
The art world is in undergoing a shift. What used to be a “cottage industry,” as Steven Kaminski put it, “is now a complex ecosystem” with many players and new roles. Technological developments and social media have unquestionably become instrumental catalysts that will continue to influence the market. From art collecting to consumption and distribution—the industry has been transformed. There are now VR specialists and organizations that set up virtual tours of collections. Companies like Pelham Communications have in-house teams of digital specialists that work with all sectors of the art world to develop digital strategies. And the latest developments in cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence are creating new possibilities for art investment and production. “It’s fascinating to see what is coming out [in the art world] as a result of new technologies,” said Ashely Devenish Robinson. “I learn of new jobs and opportunities on a regular basis.” In today’s job market, being about to adjust to the industry’s rapid changes is not just a beneficial trait for applicants to possess, it’s a necessity.
Where Careers Are Made
Careers in the art world—as in any industry—are built on relationships. Building those connections early is key for career success. It’s for this reason that the Institute’s career fairs have become an invaluable resource to Master’s students. The London fair aims to introduce students to its vast and varied network of employers from the art world, showcasing the entrepreneurial spirit in the industry and Institute alumni who have launched their own enterprises. “We have a range of sectors represented at the fair from Sotheby’s auction house to specialists in data analytics,” said Zoe Mogridge. “A student can go around the [art] world in one afternoon. We want them to be explorers.”
In New York, Ashley Devenish Robinson, is reimagining this year’s fair as a targeted and productive recruitment opportunity for some of the city’s top employers. In addition to the representative, pamphlet setup you expect to encounter at a career fair, Robinson has also introduced the element of career speed dating. All of the Master’s students who have RSVP’d to the event are guaranteed face time with a company from the industry of their choice — from galleries and art fairs to logistics and marketing. “I really want all of the students to walk away from the event with a new connection in the art world,” she explained. She’s assembled an impressive roster of more than 20 art market employers for students to meet, including Gagosian, The Art Newspaper, UNTITLED Art Fair, Phillips, UOVO, Fitz & Co, and UBS Financial Service/Art Collection. “All of the employers know the caliber of talent that the Institute provides,” Robinson said. “They were all eager to be part of it!”
Written by Alina Girshovich