Want my Job? Lucy Shipp, University of Cambridge Museums

Lucy Shipp works in Widening Participation and is the Arts Award adviser at the University of Cambridge Museums.

Want my Job? Lucy Shipp, University of Cambridge Museums

What is your current job title? What does your job involve?

I'm possibly the owner of the longest job title! I am the Learning Associate (Widening Participation and Arts Award) at the University of Cambridge Museums. I'm mainly based at the Fitzwilliam Museum, but I also work across the nine sites of the University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Gardens, so I never get bored.

As a Learning Associate, I programme activities and workshops across the museum. I mainly work with people aged 10-25 and they can be from a variety of backgrounds. As we're a University Museums service, I also do some collaborative work with the university to deliver sessions and reach more young people. There are other people in the team (equivalent to eight full time members of staff) who work on developing and delivering our schools, family, young persons and community programmes.

What's great about your job?

The brilliant thing about working in a museum is that no two days are ever really the same. Since I joined the museum five months ago I've taught sessions for families and young people in the gallery spaces, attended a couple of conferences to hear about what's going on in the world of museums and working with young people and spoken at a conference about our Arts Award offer. I've worked in our education studio including teaching young people how to make portrait miniatures, animation, researched a sculpture for our monthly Art Speak with adults and taken part in meetings for arts/cultural activities across the city and further afield.

Since I've been at the Fitzwilliam we've already put up an exhibition of young people's work and my highlight is definitely creating more opportunities for audiences to get involved in museums and galleries. You can be quite creative in coming up with interesting ways to look at or engage with an object or painting. It's always really satisfying when you manage to surprise someone, or offer people ways that they can enjoy the museum - even if that's through music, art, touching, talking or drawing!

What are the bits you don't like or find challenging?

The Fitzwilliam Museum has thousands of objects that we look after - it can be a bit daunting, but it's fascinating being able to work with curators and the members of the learning team to slowly find out more about these objects. It can also be quite challenging making sure that you've organised everything well: working in a big museum like the Fitzwilliam can require quite a lot of planning to make sure everyone knows what's going on, but it's all worth it!

What are the highlights of your career to date?

I've been lucky enough to work in museums for almost seven years now. My highlights would have to include being part of the team that opened a new museum, Watts Studios, as part of Watts Gallery - Artists' Village. It was pretty cool making decisions with artists and curators, and having lots of opening celebrations! I've loved working at all the different museums though, I often feel really happy when I'm walking to work and see the museum buildings and objects, and remember what inspiring places they are. I've also got to learn lots more about artists and history, and even some science through conservation too!

How did you get into an arts job - have you also worked outside the arts?

When I was younger I loved making things, so I ended up doing a degree in Contemporary Crafts. As part of this I volunteered to lead and assist with community arts workshops in painting and willow weaving in hospitals and community centres. I discovered that I loved sharing art skills with people! After I graduated I was lucky enough to get a paid internship at the V&A, where I was based in the National Art Library for three days a week (I also had two other customer service jobs and one job doing some social media to help pay my rent!).

My placement came to an end but I managed to keep up some work with the library at the V&A, and even managed to get some work with the learning team. Having the support from staff at the V&A was great, it meant I picked up some small jobs at other museums and galleries. However, I still struggled to get a full time job, so decided to travel and work with young people on a volunteer project in India for ten weeks. This was great, as it gave me experience of working with young people in an unfamiliar environment and deal with unexpected situations (things that come in handy for interviews!), and after I came back I was still able to keep working at the museums and galleries I had done when I left. Two years after I graduated, I finally realised that I could volunteer at my local museum instead of commuting into London. When I looked to volunteer, I found a job on the website. I applied and I got my first full time job as Learning Officer at Maidstone Museum.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

Building a career in museum education has been pretty tough, but it feels like it's all worthwhile. The biggest challenge has been to keep up the momentum in finding a job. It might seem like you've exhausted all the options, but I often find talking to others gives you more ideas for what you could do. Before I got my job at Maidstone I was fairly close to giving up the idea of working at museums, but I had to keep going as I knew it was what I really wanted to do.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

Don't be afraid to try things out! I've found museums, and learning departments in particular, always really friendly and willing to help. I definitely recommend getting in touch with your local museum or art gallery and seeing what they might have available (there might be workshops, volunteering, tours or work experience you can get involved with). The sector can be quite hard to get into, but it's also worth thinking about what transferable skills you might have. All experience is good experience, so get as much as you can. For instance, I'm pretty sure that doing some work for a social media company (which I hated!) helped me talk about marketing and social media for my interview at Maidstone. Equally, I almost didn't take the placement at the V&A as I knew I didn't really want to work in a library (it was a lot of stacking books), but in the end it was brilliant meeting lots of helpful people there.

Here at the University of Cambridge Museums we offer work experience taster days, which can be a fantastic way to find out about all different kinds of careers in the museum. Once you've got you're toe in the door, my next suggestion is to talk to people and offer to help, or maybe even suggest an idea (especially if you're willing to see it through). Show your enthusiasm!

  • Image courtesy of Lucy Shipp and Cambridge University Museums

Want to know more about working in education? Head over to Creative Choices, a careers website filled with advice on getting a job in the arts industries.


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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