Climbing the ladder in the museum field: a brief story of my own experience

Working in a museum is one of my biggest dreams. I love the powerful role of museums, their inventiveness in creating engaging initiatives for the community, and their willingness to stand out as institutions that can make a difference in society. Here is a story about climbing the ladder in the museum field. It is a long and exhausting, but beautiful process.  

I realised I wanted to be part of all this in my university years. I started working hard and haven’t stopped ever since…

In this article I’ll be sharing with you the key-moments of my personal growth as a cultural heritage and museum professional. It’s been very challenging at times, but also incredibly fulfilling. So, make yourself comfortable and let’s begin!

My intention of pursuing a career in museums became clear in my mind when, as an Archaeology student at the University of Pisa, I would go on trips around Tuscany and other parts of Italy to visit art places and archaeological sites I had never seen before. It wasn’t just a pastime, rather an opportunity to see for myself the things I was studying.

I could put my knowledge into practice by observing the artworks on view; I could learn about the methods used to preserve the collections and evaluate how artifacts were made accessible to visitors. The allure that came from it became increasingly big, nurturing my deep interest – and passion – in the museum sector and the cultural heritage development.

Florence, here I come!

The first steps of climbing the ladder in the museum field had just started. When I finished university in 2015, I was determined to continue my education with the specific goal to learn as much as possible about how to become a museum expert. I had to ponder on the opportunities available in Italy and search for schools that could provide specialist training courses without necessarily spending a fortune. After a long and exhausting research, I was lucky enough to find the right option for me – the tuition fee was affordable and, most importantly, the study programme met my expectations! Without further ado, I submitted the enrolment form and packed all my stuff. I was ready and raring to start a new adventure!

It was May 2016 when I moved from Pisa to Florence to attend a Post Master’s vocational course in Management of Cultural Heritage at Palazzo Spinelli Group.

A glimpse of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

The overall experience was really eye-opening. Through theoretical sessions, workshops, seminars, and visits in museums and art galleries, I learnt how art institutions are organised and run their activities, what their limits and strengths are, how their role has developed over time, and what strategies can be devised nowadays to promote heritage sites of all kinds. These and many other more complex aspects were highlighted during the course, making me want to immediately jump into real work experience.

Climbing the ladder in the museum field - my story
Photo by Palazzo Spinelli Group via Flickr.

My first job as an Exhibition Development Intern

The final part of the vocational course consisted in a 4-month onsite training in an art company of my choice. My intention was to look for job opportunities in Florence and find the right institution that could allow me to build expertise and possibly hire me after the initial internship. As a result, I began working at Contemporanea Progetti, a small service company specializing in the organisation of travelling exhibitions around the world. I joined the Exhibition Development team in December 2016 and interned with them for 16 months in total – after finishing the vocational course, the company asked me to stay and continue the training with them. I couldn’t ask for more since I was loving what I was doing! 

My main role was to support the staff in the planning and development of exhibition projects. I had to research, write and edit contents for information panels, labels, catalogues and booklets both for exhibitions and marketing campaigns. Plus, I was in charge of developing the concept, mission and structure of an exhibition, including the selection of artworks and the itinerary plan. I had to carry out multiple tasks, but assisting in all the curatorial activities of my Department was the best part of the internship. Back then I twigged that working as a museum curator was definitely the kind of job I could see myself doing in the future.

“Gladiators. Heroes of the Colosseum”. Exhibition by Contemporanea Progetti.

End of an experience. Start of a new chapter.

It was June 2018 when the company decided to let me go for good. My hopes to be hired went up in flame along with the possibility to keep living in Florence. I started applying to every single private museum, art gallery, exhibition company and other similar institutions around Italy that I had come across in my job search – I lost count of the number of emails and applications I sent during that time! 

Without a job and the rental expenses to pay it soon became clear to me that I had to leave. In summer I went back home and after an initial moment of discouragement, anger and uncertainty about my career goals, I rolled up my sleeves again in search of new opportunities to build on my skills and improve as a professional in the art and culture sector. Among other things, I attended some extra university courses in my hometown to widen my education; I took advanced English classes, and followed online IT courses and job search training programmes.

I gradually realised how bad in Italy the job outlook in my field was, mainly for lack of investments in the cultural heritage but also because most museums are public and managed by the MiBACT (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism). This means that you can’t directly apply to them unless you take part to national competitive exams which unfortunately are published once in a blue moon. Nevertheless, my job hunting carried on not only in Italy but in Europe and overseas as well. 

2020: the breakthrough 

Believe it or not, it took me almost two years to get to my first experience in a real museum. Rejection after rejection I had grown despondent and more than once I had felt on the point of giving all up, especially when the global pandemic hit unexpectedly. However, I trusted my instincts and soldiered on until in May 2020 I jumped at the chance of working remotely as a Collections Digitisation Volunteer at the Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) in Suffolk, UK. It was a significant new step in climbing the ladder in the museum field, and international one.

I was so thrilled to finally immerse myself in a museum environment – even if just virtually. I learnt a lot from it, gaining hands-on experience and networking with the team members and the curator. My role, which is still ongoing, consists in analysing and transferring records onto the public, online database of the museum, including the update of digital collections, writing historical reports on key-objects and researching contents for exhibitions and other projects.

Climbing the ladder in the museum field: volunteering

Me cataloguing artworks for the MEAL

Finding a paid museum job has always been the main purpose, of course – in that sense, I’ve never stopped seeking –, but this volunteering experience has boosted my determination to get a foothold in the field and raise my game.

New goals. New challenges.

At the top of my career bucket list still lies the idea of becoming a museum curator one day, but lately I’ve been exploring alternative ways to use my expertise and delve deeper into the art world. With this goal in mind, in October 2020 I created my Instagram page @artandcultureaddict as a learning and entertaining space dedicated to art, museums, archaeology, history and travels.

My intent is to promote the cultural heritage of the places I’ve visited across Italy and abroad, as well as sharing knowledge of the topics I’m passionate about. Plus, I’ve been using it to build an international network with art institutions, museum experts and budding professionals like me. Much to my delight, the page is gradually growing, meaning that more and more “art addicts” out there are appreciating what I’ve been doing. This is of great motivation to me, as I aim to create new contents and elaborate some interesting projects for the future. 

My first profile photo on Instagram: me at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily.

Read my previous article: Nordic walking as a way to explore natural and cultural heritage

2021: climbing the ladder in the museums field through writing and collaborations

Another great opportunity, that has come my way this year, is the collaboration with Fun Museums. I’m so glad to be part of such an amazing platform as a guest writer! This is only my second article on here, but I’m looking forward to making progress as an emerging content writer and seeing where this new path will lead me to. 

Writing about art and museums on blogs and web pages is definitely a challenge to me since I’ve never done this before. Even so, I feel really inspired by the people I’ve been mingling with through this platform. I’m aware that there’s still a long walk ahead to get where I want to be career-wise, but I’m confident enough that my efforts will soon open new doors. After all, climbing the ladder in the museum field is a process rather than destination.

Continue reading on Fun Museums: From “Museums are boring” to a career at a museum

4 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing your personal career path! It’s really inspiring to read that despite the hardships you didn’t give up and being led by your genuine passion about art & culture you have accomplished many professional achievements! Keep up the good work & all the best for the future!

    • Thank you so much, Bill! Let’s see what’s in store in the future! 😉

  • I’m happy you found a way forward. I’m sure things will turn out well for you in the long term.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words! I hope so too… fingers crossed! lol 😉

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