As part of an ongoing Alumni Blog series, I caught up with Gabrielle Young to find out more about her experience on CMCI’s MA Art’s & Cultural Management Course. As part of the following interview, she discusses, among other things, how her time at King’s helped to prepare her for her current career, what she enjoyed most about the MA course, and what advice she would give to students currently enrolled on the course.
Gabrielle Young has worked in the cultural sector for the last 5 years since undertaking CMCI’s MA Arts and Cultural Management course in 2015, graduating in 2016.
Gabrielle’s dissertation was a collaboration with Arts Council England and explored the socio-economic impact of cultural organisations on residents and audiences, through the case study of Bold Tendencies in Peckham. During her MA, Gabrielle worked as a Gallery Assistant at Somerset House and was an Art Trainee Intern at Bold Tendencies. Since graduating, she has worked for Omnibus Theatre, as a Research Assistant for the The Audience Agency, and was a volunteer for Young People In the Arts. Gabrielle joined Tate nearly three years ago, starting in a collections management and documentation role. For two years, she worked across the five Tate sites and got to know the inner workings of the organisation’s collection management practices. Since August 2020, Gabrielle has been working in the Acquisitions team at Tate, supporting the day to to day running of the British and International art acquisitions programme. Within the arts world, Gabrielle is interested in broadening and diversifying access to culture both in terms of audiences and workforce. In her spare time, Gabrielle enjoys reading and being out in nature. When the pandemic is over, she looks forward to visiting galleries and museums again.
Firstly, why did you choose to study the MA Arts and Cultural Management course? And why at the CMCI Department at King’s College?
I chose to study this specific MA as I was looking to work in the cultural sector, particularly in a museum or gallery in the UK. When looking for and applying for such jobs while I was an undergraduate, I found that a number of them required a degree to do with the arts (such as History of Art) or extensive experience already working in the sector. As my undergraduate degree was in English Language and Literature, I decided that studying an MA on the Arts and Cultural Management course would be a good way to gain a qualification in an arts related degree. I was really impressed with the breadth of the Arts and Cultural Management course, the option to study curating within Tate and the strong links with London’s cultural institutions. I was also really keen to learn more about art history and theory, which was an option within the course. The MA seemed like the perfect balance between practical and theoretical.
I had attended King’s College London for my undergraduate degree, so felt reassured by the fact I knew the institution very well, had established roots in London for the past three years and would be able to expand on the contacts I already had in the city. At the time, the CMCI department was very new (I was in the second year the MA ran) and I was keen to be a part of a newly established department in a historic university.
Since completing your MA you have had an impressive number of high-profile roles inclusive of Visual Art’s Assistant and Deputy Manager at Omnibus Theatre, Database and Research Assistant for The Audience Agency, Project Manager for Young People in the Arts, and Collections Database Officer and Acquisitions Assistant for Tate. Can you tell us more about how the MA Arts and Cultural Management course help you prepare for these roles and your future after graduation?
It helped me prepare through the weekly sessions that took place on location within several of London’s cultural institutions, such as the Roundhouse, the V&A and Battersea Art Centre. This introduced me to staff who worked there and I got a really strong understanding of the different types of roles I could do and what it would actually be like to work somewhere like that.
Our visit to the Roundhouse in particular was key to the start of my career. During the talk, the Head of Marketing gave a lecture on arts marketing and audience segmentation. She mentioned the company the Roundhouse had employed to complete this research, which was called the Audience Agency. Their work looked really interesting so I kept an eye on their job vacancies. When I saw a job opening there few months after I’d completed my MA, I applied. It was one of the best jobs I’ve had, and I made some great friends: one of my ex-colleagues is now my housemate!
The MA also helped me understand the cultural sector in the UK, particularly in terms of funding and structure, which helped me in my job search and in my jobs as I was able to understand the bigger picture of the world I was working in. The MA introduced me to new ways of thinking and writing about issues, which I still use today. Lectures and reading on government funding (both present and historic) of the cultural sector helped me understand the complex position of arts organisations in the UK. This is particularly true now, with the current government’s ‘culture war’ and the difficulties that will pose when linked to Covid recovery funding.
If you could give any advice to students currently enrolled on MA Arts and Cultural Management course, what would it be?
If you have come to the course straight from your undergraduate, I would say to work or intern in the cultural sector as much possible during the MA. While the course is fantastic, work experience is just as important and you’ll really get a feel of the kind of role or organisation you’d like to work for. You’ll also meet lots of people and contacts.
I initially gained experience by working as a Gallery Assistant in several organisations, which I recommend as it’s an entry level position and you really get to understand the background working of a gallery or museum. I would also recommend looking to cultural institutions local to you. Smaller organisations are usually always looking for volunteers a couple of hours a week, which can easily fit around a paid job. I would recommend cold emailing as many places as possible as you never know what might happen! This should be possible even during the pandemic, as many organisations are keen to expand their digital reach or are working on a backlog of administration tasks. Reach out to them to offer your skills and time, and see if you can help. Even a few hours a week (completed around a paid job) can make a big difference on your CV, and for your knowledge and confidence.
Within the university, there are also many opportunities advertised – look into them and apply to the ones that fit. I ended up doing my MA dissertation in partnership with Arts Council England, which I found out through the course. I learnt so much through this experience and it gave me some great contacts as well as looking good on my CV.
Finally – get involved with the sector! If you like that kind of thing, set up a Twitter account and follow industry leaders and engage with issues. Write down your thoughts on things going on that you are interested in like talks, news stories, exhibition or performance reviews. During the pandemic, many organisations are hosting talks or workshops online that you can attend to keep up with the cultural sector.
If you could do the course all over again, would you do anything differently? And if so, why?
I would do it part-time instead of full-time. When I did the course, I was working one or two jobs at once (in a bar, as a Gallery Assistant, and later in a theatre and in a café) throughout my degree. This was not only exhausting, it also meant I couldn’t make the most of the course as when unexpected opportunities popped up, I was unable to take them up as I was either committed to shift work or catching up on coursework, or simply too tired. So if anyone is looking to do this course while planning to work at the same time, I’d really encourage them to consider doing it part-time. There are so many talks and extra-curricular activities offered to students that are so helpful, and those are organised ad hoc so can be tricky to fit in at the last moment. That way, it’s easier to make the most of the opportunities offered on the course, as well as being able to focus on work.
What did you enjoy most about the MA Arts and Cultural Management course?
I absolutely loved my curating module at Tate Modern. Access to these big institutions is really tricky so it was invaluable to be given an insider’s perspective for a couple of hours a week. For me, Tate was always the place I wanted to end up working so it’s great to have come full circle now, working in the Curatorial department at Tate Britain. I’ve been working at Tate for almost 3 years and still use so much of what I learnt during the course.
Were there any academics that had a strong influence on you during your time in the CMCI department? Why?
Richard Howells who taught the Visual Culture module was amazing. Having never studied Art History and having a really strong interest in art theory, this module ticked all the boxes. It opened up my thoughts to completely new ideas – particularly John Berger’s Ways of Seeing – that impacted my life outside of my studies. I still have the books required for the course and look back through them. Professor Howells also has a really engaging way of teaching, which made the seminars both fun and challenging – definitely never boring.