Education, Getty Center, Voices

Getty Voices: “I like art. Now what?”

How do you make a career in the arts? For most of us, the path is unpaved. On Getty Voices this week, social media coordinator and recent college grad Sarah Waldorf explores how an interest in art can lead (often through a variety of twists and turns) to a meaningful career, and quite possibly one that’s unexpected. We want your questions: ask them here or on the Getty’s Facebook and Twitter.

Got questions about arts careers? I’m here to answer them!

I used to be a frequent player of Hasbro’s Game of Life, which transformed the terrifying, unknown future into a colorful, simplistic board game. The highlight for me was career selection. Following the mandatory completion of college, I always crossed my fingers and hoped for the artist career card. If I could be an artist and make $100,000 per spin, I was set!

I did follow that path in real life, nabbing myself a bachelor’s degree in art. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t draw the magical 100-grand salary card after graduation. I did find, however, that an “art career” was scarily undefined. I loved making art, studying contemporary practice and art history, but did that mean I was ready for a career in the arts? What other jobs existed besides artist and curator? And in contemporary practice, did such defined lines even exist?

At first—like many people starting out—I didn’t realize there was a lot more to explore than the two poles of “art making” and “art study.” If I’m honest (to perhaps an embarrassing degree), I didn’t even realize there were more jobs in art, and specifically in museums and cultural institutions, than curator and communications until just the past year. And I certainly wasn’t aware of the education, professional development, and more that it took to achieve such positions—and moreover, what those positions even meant!

I’ve found quite a challenging and interesting position in the niche of museum social media that, until joining the Getty’s web team last summer via the Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program, I didn’t even know existed. But importantly, I’ve noticed that many of the things I liked about art school—critical questioning, creative problem solving, learning about historical perspectives, and more—were skills that help me succeed in social media today.

As the coordinator for the Getty Voices project, I feel like an art interpreter, using my education and interests to guide how we open up and share the scholarly work that takes place here. Curiosity about art and museums, combined with skills I built studying art and communications at college, are my core toolset.

So here I am, celebrating my one-year anniversary of college graduation, using Getty Voices as a platform to consider what an “art career” means today. This week I hope to explore the many options for art careers, facilitate conversation between students and professionals, and share some interviews with some particularly interesting (and generous and candid) museum professionals I’ve met recently. Whether you’re a student, a recent grad like me, or a more seasoned art lover who’s interested in career opportunities in the field, I’d like to know who you would like to hear from. I am lucky to be surrounded by a diverse range of professionals here at the Getty, from librarians to conservators to designers, and would love to use my network here to find answers that will useful to you.

  • Did you ever wonder how to become a museum security manager? (And what is that, anyway?)
  • Do you want to hear how a mosaic conservator became one, and what her job entails?
  • Ever wonder what “public engagement” is, and how you do it?
  • What credentials does it take to become a museum director?
  • How do you become an art librarian, and what does he do all day?

This week is for questioning and sharing! Please reach out to me here or on Facebook and Twitter and let me know if you are a student or professional and whether you’d like to ask a specific question, hear a career story, or to share your own journey through the arts. Let’s talk!

Connect with more “I like art. Now what?” content from this week’s Getty Voices:

  • What does it take to become a security guard at a museum?
  • Tierney Sneeringer, project specialist at the Smithsonian American Art Museum shares her experience with getting started with art early.
  • Jack Ludden, web group manager, describes how complex and interesting the museum field actually is.
  • Emily Lytle-Painter knows we can’t force students to know about arts administration, but she proposes that rethinking how art school is organized might be a starting point.
  • Leslie Friedman is an example of how a mid-career switch in interests isn’t a bad thing!
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  1. Sarah Estes
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Hello Sarah!

    This is a wonderfully useful article, which reaches out to people like me who are forging careers in support of the arts. Do you have any tips on how to get introduced to your Human Resources team, in order to stand out? I imagine they receive overwhelming interest. Does the Getty participate in local networking or career events? Thank you!

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Hello Sarah!

      I approached Dennise Cruz, a HR coordinator, and Cynthia Querio in grants programming. Both provided insight to your important (and always difficult) quest! Standard hiring process for the Getty goes through a web portal called “Career Center.” Each manager is different, Dennise mentioned that her involvement ranges from screening resumes for gaps in employment/consistency to just sending over raw data.

      Zero in! Cynthia said setting up informal interviews with professionals in the department you are interested is key. “Although HR manages the hiring process, the people making the decisions and selecting the top candidates to interview are the individual departments and supervisors. Especially at large organizations like the Getty, having someone within the organization pass your resume along is also very helpful.” Sometimes a supervisor will have 50 resumes on his/her desk and having a person to pass along the resume can be the difference between a second look and a skim.

      Hope this helps!

      • Annelisa Stephan
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Hi Sarah E., As a person who’s looked at resumes and cover letters submitted by many job applicants, I thought I might offer some additional observations from my point of view in the hope that they’ll be helpful. Everyone is different, but because we do a lot of writing and communicating, I always put a lot of value on the cover letter. It’s worth spending some time on yours and making sure you get as many folks as possible to look it over before you apply. The cover letter is where we get to see who you are, and how you handle yourself with a stranger (the person on the other end). Some folks will have you believe that the cover letter should argue that you are the best person for the job, or that you are feverish with enthusiasm, or that you are waiting by the phone for a call to schedule an interview. Not really. The cover letter should be an authentic expression of who you are and why you feel this work would matter to you and to us. It’s pretty simple, but can be hard to do – get your friends and mentors to tell you what they really think. What makes Sarah Estes different or special? Focus on that. The ability to paint a scene that communicates who you are, if kept brief, doesn’t hurt either. I remember reading a personal statement from an internship candidate that explained how their old Datsun broke down off the 405 the first time they tried to go visit a museum. I liked her immediately!

        This will sound like trite advice, but it’s really true, and it can’t be repeated often enough: Do your research. Your job application will stand out if you make clear why you want to work at a certain organization, and show that you’ve visited, followed them, and really know the area in which you wish to work (whether that’s the collection, the site, the programs, the social media, or other). It also helps to show enthusiasm tempered by realism – arts jobs are wonderful and rewarding, but they are work, too, and require the willingness to roll up your sleeves and get things done. Show that you’re willing to do that.

        As Cynthia pointed out, getting to know people is key, not just so they’ll pass your info along but also so you can find out what the options are, who does what, and where you might best fit in. Leaving a comment here shows that you’re already reaching out and doing this, so, good job! Good luck!

  2. Jackie Ibragimov
    Posted May 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    You are so right! In general, I used to think the only real jobs in the world were to be a Lawyer, a Doctor, or a Therapist….oh and Acting/Modeling. Delving into art careers has broadened my naive-adolescent perspective of what brings in the dough and what can support a family/life.

    I’ve become increasingly curious about Museum Directors. Researching Directors doesn’t provide as many tidbits of information as one would think, as these awesome people come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Is there any information you could provide about a Museum Director, specifically what on Earth their job actually entails and how they are different from the CEO (or are they the same thing? Oh boy! See why I need you?)

    • Posted May 31, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Jackie! Thank you so much for your response – and DUH how could I forget all those times I believed I’d be an actress when I was young.

      So let’s break this down. A CEO = Chief Executive Officer. He or she is responsible on signing off on all high level decisions. This is a person with executive authority. The confusing part depending on the museum (and its size, staff, governance, etc.), a CEO and Director could co-exist OR it could be one single person doing both jobs. For example, at a university museum, the museum director probably has some authority but signing power comes from university executives.

      In the case of our museum director, he is responsible for acquisitions, has strategic oversight of the budget and how it is deployed, and has all large decisions run through him. Traditionally, directors have a curatorial background. But these days, an emerging trend is to have a director come from a fundraising or corporate background. SO! On your quest to take over the museum world, Jackie, get some acquisitions and fundraising experience and I’ll see ya at the top!

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