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How to Find Funding and Get Your Foot in the Door
By Tiffany Miller
Anyone working or studying in cultural institutions knows how difficult it is to find funding and funded opportunities. Even funded experiences, such as internships, fellowships, or educational grants, typically provide bare minimum wages. As an EMP who just finished a fellowship at the university that I graduated from, I barely made enough money to pay my rent, bills, and get groceries, so I had to go out and get second job. College students and recent graduates should not have to find an internship or job that pays next to nothing, and unpaid internship are not an option for everyone.
Hopefully things will change, but in the meantime, I hope some EMPs find new ways of funding their work opportunities and other cost-effective ways of getting out there in the field!
There are a lot of professional affiliations and networks that share openings for paid internships and jobs, such as AAMG and AAM. It is is free for students to become a member of AAMG, so once you join you can search for grants, internship opportunities, and scholarships. This is a great place to start to find a position that meets your professional and educational goals at a wide variety of institutions, and to get a sense of what jobs are out there.
2. Ask and Think Outside the Box!
At my undergraduate university, scholarships and grants were not well advertised at all. I did not even know about these types of funding until my sophomore year when I started as a work-study student at a museum. I asked my supervisor about ways I could fund my unpaid summer internship, and they showed me the seemingly hidden section on the university’s website. From there, I began applying to any department that offered grants that were related to my internship. In my case, this included art history, Italian, and off-campus studies (which may help you secure college credit for unpaid internships).
3. Join a Club
A lot of clubs at schools and within your local communities have funding available, either from fundraisers or endowments. Ask if you are eligible to utilize it. Joining a club is also a great way to meet people for future connections (which I get into further down).
Funding may be more readily given to those with good amounts of experience, as this demonstrates that you have a solid idea of what you want to do. For example, for graduate school I secured full funding for my program solely based on my experience, not merit: I completed internships every summer, additional volunteering, and worked in a variety of museums in different departments and locations. This allowed me to develop a diverse, well-rounded background to become a more desirable candidate for funding sources.
5. Start a Blog
If you are interested in a certain topic, starting your own blog is a great way to get your writing out there and shared with friends and colleagues. This is also a great addition for school, internship, and job applications. From an employer perspective, it is nice to see people take initiative and step into the field through other channels, especially if you are gaining consistent or new feedback on your published work.
Rachel suggests: Check out Medium – this is a user friendly platform that you can use to create a basic blog to get your writing published without needing to build a website from scratch.
6. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!
Try working within a different department at your current museum. Or, if you only worked, interned in, or thought about working at an art museum, try volunteering or working/interning at a natural history museum. You may be surprised once you get out of your comfort zone! It is helpful to understand how other departments or institutions work to be a better employee in the future. In my opinion, finding out what you like to do is just as important as knowing what you do not like.
7. Network Like It’s Your Job
Whether it is going to the opening of a new exhibit, volunteering, interning, reading blogs, or interacting on social media, there are many ways to connect with new people who share your interests. That one person you met at a random gallery opening or on a trip to a museum could be the person giving you a job, or recommending you for an opening somewhere else. Follow up with them afterwards to reaffirm that connection so that they remember you. It is hard enough to get a job, especially in museums, so reaching out with a quick email after meeting people in the field can go far.
8. BE NICE!
This seems like a no-brainer, but you never know who people know. Always be the best version of yourself: if you show rudeness, complain frequently, arrive late, or miss an appointment, your peer or supervisor might share this with know someone at a different institution that you may eventually want to work at. Poor behavior could result in your supervisor not writing you a good letter of recommendation, or one at all. One of my previous supervisors told me that she would never write recommendations for a fellow, work-study student, or even a volunteer that performed poorly.
As with anything, if you work hard, show effort, show desire to work in the field, and are polite, all of that goes far while trying to establish your career in museums.
Tiffany Miller is a graduate student at Syracuse University studying Museum Studies and Art History. She obtained her BA in Art History in 2018 while also studying Museum Studies and Italian at DePauw University. Previously, she worked in museums and galleries in New York, Washington DC, Minnesota, and Indiana, as well as in Italy, and recently finished her year-long Collections and Outreach fellowship at the Richard E. Peeler Art Center at DePauw University. She works in collections management and registration, and focuses her research on provenance history, as well as Italian Renaissance and Baroque art and their perceptions, preservation, and placement in art collections. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.