The Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attraction Industry in 2021

22 Sep 2021 / Tim Seyner Harness

The lockdown closures of Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attractions have changed the way people are using them. Visitors are now looking for more of an immersive experience that requires staff who have customer service excellence as well as a passion for the subject. So we thought it would be a good idea to interview our Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attractions recruitment expert to find out more about what’s going on in the industry, as well as the job opportunities available for a diverse range of people.

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Hello. I’m Tim Seyner Harness. I’m one of the Founder Directors of Artisan People.

Why are you passionate about recruitment in the arts?

I personally am passionate about recruitment in the arts because I’m a bit of a frustrated creative. I think that if you’re going to do recruitment, do it in a subject that you’re keen and passionate about, that’s not IT or something like that. And I think for years, arts have been really poorly served – before we got involved – with agencies that linked them on to charities that didn’t really care where the temps have come from, and weren’t really helping on their visitor offer. So we’re really keen on expanding from there and giving them the certain people that cultural organisations and institutions rightfully deserve.

Which Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attractions have Artisan People worked with?

We’ve worked with quite a number over the years, but the prime ones that we are working with – and this does sound a bit London-centric – but very much the British Museum, Victorian & Albert Museum, London Transport Museum, the Barbican Centre, the Southbank Centre, Imperial War Museum… So I could rattle on for a bit. There are quite a few.

Museums and Visitor Attractions have recently re-opened after the Pandemic. What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges they face over the next six months?

I think the biggest challenges that the sector as a whole faces, are getting access to people coming in, and actually people that want to come in and travel across the country. Because obviously we’re not going to be getting international visitors at the moment – I don’t know when that’s going to come back and I don’t really think it’s going to come back all at once, there’ll be a drip drip through to people. But I think really welcoming people from across the UK and making people feel safe in these organisations is a big thing and encouraging it, because I think people are still quite tentative about coming back into London and visiting places, and I think that’s just going to take some time to get over.

So I think really good socially distanced policies will be good. Really amazing exhibitions, and making it very family-friendly as well.

Do you think that visitor expectations have changed and therefore recruitment of staff for the arts will have changed? 

I do think it’s changed. I think one key comment that we’re constantly hearing in the sector at the moment is that museums and organisations want their staff to reflect more of the diversity of London, and really to look like London. So I think it’s very interesting from a recruitment point of view, to try to find as diverse a group of people as we can to work and to temp in the museums. It’s just very, very challenging to find people that are from a different background, because one thing that I’m really passionate about is bringing people into the sector that haven’t had any sort of exposure to it, or people that haven’t thought they’d be interested, or they even haven’t thought they’d be good enough – somebody that might have worked within restaurants or within supermarkets will be really good, and give them the chance to do that, because it’s essentially the same sort of work role: welcoming customers, being friendly, standing on your feet for six, seven hours day, and just being very positive and welcoming. And it’s not about having people that have just got art history degrees and think they’re going to be a curator within the museum within 30 seconds. These are visitor services roles, these are retail roles and we need to find people to reflect that. But having said that, it’s really challenging to find people from diverse backgrounds that want to do that. Hopefully, I think that’s one thing that we’re going to be focusing on at the moment and trying to find people from different backgrounds to bring them in.

During Lockdown many visitor attractions enhanced their online presence, opening online galleries, interactive experiences etc. Do you see this continuing in the future?

I think it will to a certain extent, but I don’t think it will replace a real exposure to visitor services. From an international basis I think it’s been fantastic because overseas visitors can actually access things. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to, and great exhibitions that have been up and running, like the Warhol at Tate, people wouldn’t have been able to see it. However, I don’t think it’s going to replace things going forward, but I think they’ll still be around.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work within the Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attractions industry?

I think for the people that want to come into the sector, there’s some really key bullet points here:

  • Be strong and positive.
  • It doesn’t matter where you’ve worked, it’s about what you can do.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Always contact Artisan – we’d be delighted to help you as much as we can, but also contact the organisation because there’s going to be a lot of recruitment that’s going to be happening.

What has been the most exciting project you have worked on for a client and why

Well, this is quite difficult, but I can only talk about it from a personal point of view. And for me, because I’m a big fan of music, working on a music exhibition that was the first of its kind for a specific amazing British musician, and running the exhibition, and actually welcoming him into the exhibition when it ran was an absolute winner for me. But there have been many other exhibitions, particularly when we did it with history and art, that I’ve absolutely loved as well.

Are there any clients which you would absolutely love to work which you have not done so yet – and why?

Well do you know what, it’s not just about who I’d love to work with, it’s about where, because I feel we’ve been far too London-centric. And I think that the service that we offer in London should be replicated across the country. And there’s no reason that museums in places as diverse as Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow shouldn’t receive the same service. I think it would be great to increase the offer across the country.

Having had such a difficult time over the last twelve months, what do you predict will be the key trends and changes in the industry over the next year? 

The first main things are getting people up and open and welcoming visitors back, and I think that’s not going to happen overnight. Since things have been open, we’ve seen a steady trickle of visitors coming into the sector, but it’s going to grow. And I think that will be a main thing. And focusing exhibitions on welcoming people will be the biggest thing.

And it just depends when we’ll be able to get international visitors back and then in what form that takes. I mean, the days of coach loads of international visitors going into museums at the moment is over unfortunately. But it’s about really sustaining the feeling of these museums and public buildings so we can get them open again and recovering. So hopefully we can move towards a Roaring Twenties, which is what people are talking about.

What types of staff do Artisan recruit for Visitor Attractions

Artisan will recruit for whatever a client needs within a specific museum or visitor attraction, be that a permanent member of staff, temporary member of staff, somebody on a short-term or long-term contract, or maybe an interim person to cover people while unfortunately they might be sick, and there’s been a lot of that going on with, obviously, COVID at the moment. So we will look at whatever we can to help.

The Pandemic has changed consumer behaviours possibly forever. How do you think Museums, Galleries and Visitor Attractions can continue to be relevant and engaging to visitors in 2021?

Immersive experiences as opposed to just very staid visitor attractions. Great retail to support – that doesn’t just look like a little shop at the end of an exhibition. Using modern technology to really bring forth an exhibition and the flavour of it.

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