Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
I’m Aksana, and a Young Freelancer at the London Transport Museum. I’m here because I love storytelling! I pursued it all the way to university where I studied History and Politics at the University of Warwick.
Unlike my peers, I didn't feel like I could fit into a career in accountancy, finance, or law. I enjoyed working with young people, and learning about different communities and their histories, which is why the museum world felt like a perfect fit. I took time away from my undergrad for health reasons and came back with a renewed stubbornness in finding out what stories are told, who is included and excluded for whose benefit.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
Young Freelancers at London Transport Museum are group of six people aged 18-25, who work on an ad-hoc basis delivering projects, workshops, and activities. This means that our varied work differs from roles that are part of daily operations. Whilst we have different creative backgrounds, we support one another.
The first project I worked on with the Young Freelancers involved planning a networking session for organisations receiving funding from Arts Council England. I’ve since gone on to help with the delivery of the Museum’s October half-term activities. My current project is tied into London Transport Museum's Young People Skills Programme. As part of this, I've worked with six volunteers aged 18-25, helping to produce an activity for our upcoming Skills Late on finding a career in transport and infrastructure. The Skills Late is a cross between a job fair and a Museum Late event. My responsibilities included planning and delivering the volunteers’ induction session, working with the Learning Team and Lead Freelancer, Becky Hatchett, to programme and deliver a five-day design sprint; supporting the delivery of Arts Award activity; as well as the event day set up.
My typical outline of a day really depends on the phase of the project I am in. At the beginning of the project, the research and development phase meant that I could work remotely from home. As the project developed, and we had finally met the volunteers themselves, I was required to be more on-site at the museum itself.
What's great about your job?
It makes my inner history nerd very happy. I enjoy learning about the collections, but as cool as objects are, it is the people behind them that interest me the most. From the people who make them, the visitors who engage with them, to the staff who care for them. Museums have a responsibility in making the past tangible, whilst catering to their communities. It's nice to do a job which combines your passions whilst knowing that you're helping people. For example, the young volunteers I have worked with in my current project have really thought about the struggles of current job seekers and how we can help them. It has been great working with them and seeing them become increasingly confident throughout the project.
What are the bits you don't like or find challenging?
As an early career professional, I am working more than one job. I live in Kenilworth (Warwickshire) but also have two roles in Birmingham. I work as a Communications and Marketing Intern at the Barber Institute and as Southside Producer at Beatfreeks. I have been lucky enough to float between museum education and arts marketing. It is, however, a double-edged sword going between the two because I learn the business aspects behind running a museum, as well as what it is like to engage with members of the public. It is a challenge to wear those different hats because they require you to assume different responsibilities. I wish I could clone myself sometimes, but on the positive side, my organisational and time management skills have greatly improved!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Certainly getting involved in the Young Freelancer scheme. It has been a challenge finding a full-time, permanent role after graduating and I didn’t know that a lot of people freelanced. But this year-long and paid programme has been invaluable to my career development. It has in-built training, from project management to reflective practice.
Being interviewed by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire this year as part of promoting Beatfreeks' Festival of Audacity was also a highlight. I have never been more nervous or conscious of the moisture of my mouth than on air!
Another was when I worked at Compton Verney, I unintentionally caused the Wi-Fi to be extended across the grounds after posting on our social media that we have a Pokémon Go gym. Apparently, we had a lot of children and teenagers complain over the weekend. How's that for legacy?
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I originally wanted to be a journalist (Ugly Betty was the inspiration behind that). I was part of the Social Mobility Foundation which provided me with a mentor and a placement at The New Review during sixth-form. I went straight into university where I wrote for the art section of my university newspaper, and I had a few roles in student outreach and front-of-house. While taking time out from my degree, I volunteered at museums, and in fact, London Transport Museum was where I first volunteered! After graduation, I worked for a recruitment company whilst applying for jobs in museums. In short, I've worked a lot of non-arts jobs to help fund and provide the skills needed for an arts job.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I have faced is one I am still to overcome: finding a museum role outside of London and in the Midlands. It is important to me because London is a bubble and the opportunities and resources available in London are not the same as throughout the rest of the country.
It’s challenging because growing up in London is a privilege as there are so many cultural provisions here. I want to change that.
The support provided by London Transport Museum and Beatfreeks is helping me achieve this aim. If a colleague hadn't tapped me in to join the Beatfreeks’ Southside Producer programme, I would not have been in the company of other young people who didn't grow up with privilege and want to make local arts organisations accountable to their communities. London Transport Museum was the first to give me a chance to no longer be on the outside looking in. It will be the longest consistent role I have had in a museum to date.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
When I was an undergrad, I thought it would be cool to consider a curatorial career. But my grades were not always consistent to pursue the 'traditional' route of doing a postgraduate, and at the time (five years ago), a lot of stress was put on volunteering as much as possible.
Curatorial volunteering was hard to come by if you didn't have a Masters degree, but there were, and still is, more volunteering opportunities in museum learning. I have 'barriers' in place before I think about applying somewhere: money is tight when you come from a working-class background; I live outside of London, and I have family responsibilities. I have not had the fortune to be spontaneous with my career, as each application requires deep thinking. The massive change for me is that there is less stress now on pursuing a postgraduate degree to work in an already competitive, highly-skilled, and often underpaid sector.
When I first started, many people recommended a Masters in Museum Studies. (Un)fortunately, the combination of my £47,000 student loan debt and how there are now so many different routes into the sector has put me off pursuing a Masters for now. The shift from emphasising theory to practice has been better for increasing access into heritage. But I am quite excited about the current generation of museum professionals. Now you have so many resources available: the New Museum School; more apprenticeships lined up; Twitter as the unofficial LinkedIn for vocal museum professionals; and Museum Detox to help BAME museum professionals navigate the sector.
What particular projects/events would you recommend to a visitor to the London Transport Museum?
Route Into Work is a course which provides tangible skills for young people looking to work in the transport sector, but is delivered by the Museum. This means some young people realise a passion for arts and culture and pursue that, with the current Young People’s Skills Apprentice at the London Transport Museum making exactly this journey. She is also sharing her story here on Voice. I'd also recommend going down to see the new Future Engineers gallery too.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Communication is important. Be clear to yourself and to others about what you want out of volunteering, a placement, internship, or job - as well as your limits. It helps manage expectations about your role, holds you accountable to the goals you set yourself, as well as knowing how other people can help you get to where you need to be.
Get Twitter! Twitter has been so integral to my professional development because I've learnt about sector developments, job openings, and have been able to approach people for career advice. If I didn't use Twitter, I wouldn't have known how I can help myself, as well as help others in signposting opportunities for my friends.
Keep reminding yourself the answer to why people should care about what you're doing. It'll keep you motivated.