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I am thinking about double majoring in nonprofit organizations and art history. Is this a good idea?

In the future I would like to eventually work in a museum and or gallery. I would preferably like to work my way up to becoming in charge of a museum or something of that nature. I know most museums now a days are nonprofit so would teaming up majors be a smart decision? All I am for sure of right now is that I would really like to work with in the art world. #college #college-major #art #nonprofits #museums #art-history #galleries

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Ollie’s Answer

There's a book out there called "what color is your parachute."


It's been out for decades. Go read it.

It suggests, among many other things, asking people in your intended field for general conversations about their work. You really should ask some people who lead a nearby museum for those conversations. Questions like "how did you get into this work?" and "do you have any suggestions about how I might get into this work in a few years?" can be very helpful. If somebody offers you an internship, TAKE IT.

You're asking about a double major in art history and nonprofit management, with a view towards museum work. Maybe you are also interested in being a galerista.

Here's the thing. Non profit management at the entry level is usually in "development". That's a euphemism for "fund-raising." An effective development person knows enough about the org -- the museum, library, food bank or whatever -- she represents, and knows a lot about her donors. She also knows enough about donors, and about where the money is, to get a seat at the table when the org is planning for the future.

Art history (called "critical studies" in many art schools) will prepare you intellectually for curator work: what you should buy, what you should display, and how you should educate your patrons about what they're seeing. If you work in a gallery your art history chops will prepare you to help figure out which emerging artists you should choose to represent. But you need those golden eyes: a distinct sense of what's great and what isn't. Your eyes will develop over your lifetime. In the meantime, you'll be working under an established curator or galerista.

There's also conservatorship and restoration work in some museums. That's a demanding craft. You didn't ask about that. You need to have some drawing, painting, and sculpture chops to do that work.

To explore gallery work, here's a suggestion. Go to a bunch of galleries that offer work for sale. Look at the artworks on offer. Look for red dots on the placards on each work: that means the work has been sold to somebody.(The dots might be on the price list, which is probably in a folder on a counter somewhere.) Always ask yourself, "why?" Why does certain stuff sell? Talk to people.

It's great work. But it's quirky, and has a lot to do with you know. So start developing those relationships with info interviews and internships.

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Ellen’s Answer

Actually, I think it sounds like a good combination. You are correct, the majority of museums are nonprofit and managing and fundraising are an important part of working in the administration of a museum. Having an art history background would be a plus, but remember that there are lots of types of museums, not just for art. There are science museums, history museums, and museums for just about anything.

You don't say where you are in your career search, but if you are in high school , you might look at schools that have a museum studies program. This would be a good program if you are sure you want a career in museums. Check with your guidance counselor or career office in your school. It would be great if you could do some summer volunteer work at a local museum to see the inside of one and if it is for you. This type of experience would also look good on a college application.

If you are already in college, then an art history and courses in non-profits management could be a way to go. However, I strongly suggest you also investigate the possibility of doing some sort of internship or volunteer work at a museum, historical house, or historical society. Those who hire in museums often see such volunteer work or internships as evidence of how serious you are about a career in the field. Careers in museums are generally low paying, so you really have to have a commitment to a career in one.

Best wishes!

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Marilyn’s Answer

As an artist, I have had my work shown in numerous galleries, and I have volunteered to docent in museums and galleries. These are very helpful in my opinion to get to know the nuts and bolts of operations. As one of the other responders said, non-profit organizations are always very involved with fund raising, so a background in marketing could be helpful as well. I am not familiar with a major in non-profits, so I do not know what the curriculum includes. Business knowledge is essential. I did not see that you are an artist, but a knowledge of the basics of art and design as well as art history would be important. I have a niece who worked with one of the museums in creating arrangements of items for events. She had an art history background with business and design. Do a lot of volunteer work and speak with people in the field. Sales experience is also helpful. This type of work is demanding but working in such beautiful surroundings may be a reward in itself. Above all, you need to love art and be good at public relations.
Best of luck,
Marilyn Balke-Lowry