A Gallery Assistant’s perspective: behind the scenes at the RBSA

Anna Jankowiak, our Gallery Assistant, on why it is never too late to start career in the arts sector.

I came to England from Poland in 2006, after I had graduated with a degree in Polish Philology. During my university years, I became really interested in arts and cultural subjects, and I became very passionate about literary images and the cultural perspective of literature, arts, psychology and anthropology. I read a lot books on art and culture, watched independent European film productions, visited theatres and chose to write my thesis on the Images of heaven in the film industry.

I realised that working in the arts sector, organising cultural events, and meeting artists was something that I would really enjoy doing after graduating. When I came to England I found finding a job that would be related to my degree and interests very difficult.

One of the first steps I took was a voluntary teaching post at a Polish School in Walsall. I had the responsible and rewarding task of preparing pupils for their A-level exams. The function, purpose and definition of the arts and their importance in society formed an important part of my teaching. The role related to such diverse matters as articles about pop and street art, whether graffiti amounts to art or vandalism, and trying to interpret Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Then came the decision to study Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. I decided to study on a part-time basis, as keeping my work and having financial security was very important to me. Working and studying at the same time was really challenging and time management was the key to being able to meet deadlines. Three months before handing in my dissertation, however, I left my job, to devote all my time to the thesis project.

I have never looked back. My university years were a wonderful journey, which enabled me to develop my knowledge and practical skills in museum practice. During the first year, I had a chance to work with fellow students, academic teachers and the staff of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, curating the exhibition ‘All the World’s a Stage’, which proved to be a success. In the second year of my degree, I was offered a placement at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry, working on an ongoing project called ‘Artist’s Biographies’. The role included research on artists whose works are displayed and stored at the venue, and writing short biographical pieces to be uploaded on the Adlib database. The aim of the project is to bring the Herbert collections closer to the public and to make the biographical information fully accessible.

Last year I started the role of Gallery Assistant at the RBSA. My duties vary, but mainly include customer service and gallery administration. I am very happy to be working in such a reputable, professional and friendly environment, meeting local artists and visitors, who come to the gallery because of their passion for art. It is a very rewarding role, which makes me feel like I can somehow contribute to promoting art within local community.

Changing the path of my career has been a long and sometimes very difficult journey. It shows, however, that it is never too late to rethink your career plans and take steps to start something new.

It takes a lot of time and effort, planning, re-planning and putting yourself out of your comfort zone. It is, however, a life-changing experience, which can make you a happier, stronger and more confident person.

Banner image: photo by Barber Institute of Fine Arts

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