ISSUE 8 | VOLUME 2 | 2008

August 25, 2008

In this Issue:

Career Talk

A Day in The Life

Tip Time:
Do's & Don'ts

Point of View

Employment Practice FAQs

Featured Job


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Dear Readers,

Welcome to our summer 2008 issue of Art Career News where, for the first time, we are dedicating an entire issue to the business of Art Galleries. Galleries, like auction houses, are the cornerstones of the for-profit art industry and operate within an extremely competitive business structure. Galleries typically are highly entrepreneurial, and range in size from very small, family-run businesses with three or four employees to multi-national franchises with branches in major world capitals. They provide unique career challenges and opportunities for arts professionals at all levels.

In the issue we examine topics for both employer and employee. In Career Talk, we provide a mini-human resources guide for gallery owners and directors – from recruitment to creating a positive work environment. In our Day in the Life column, we explore the job profiles and potential career paths of several key positions within the gallery business – from Gallery Director to Financial Controller, and including the newly emerging hybrid role of Artists Liaison. Do’s and Don’ts provides some practical advice on how to handle – and avoid -- the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, in our new Point of View column, premiering in this issue, we have a frank conversation about what it actually means to be a good leader and great boss in the gallery business. Our sincerest thanks to Celene Ryan, Gallery Director of Hosfelt Gallery in New York, for her time and generosity in providing us with her personal insights as a 20-year veteran of the field.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Art Career News and, as always, welcome your comments and suggestions. Please contact us anytime at:


Geri Thomas, President

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Thomas & Associates, Inc. offers a variety of timely and cost-effective workshops and training programs to address current issues in a variety of arts and culture businesses, including galleries and auction houses. Our programs and workshops are tailored to the invidual needs of our clients. To learn more, go to

“The challenge … is to cultivate and grow good managers from within – identifying valuable skill sets, providing training and development opportunities, and establishing career paths for employees at all levels.”

DO’s & DON’Ts:
Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace
The stories are legion, and we have heard them all … from the gallery owner with a misplaced sense of humor who signs off on staff emails with crude jokes , to the promising new employee who was suddenly dismissed after rejecting an after-hours grope from the owner’s son during an opening. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hears approximately 15,000 sexual harassment cases in the U.S. each year, and it has been estimated that between 40% and 60% of female employees have experienced some form of harassment in the workplace. Male employees also are at risk: in 2004, men filed more than 15% of EEOC sexual harassment claims.
Although art galleries are usually smaller, often family-owned businesses, they are not immune from the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. If you find yourself in a situation where a fellow employee (or superior) has made you uncomfortable through inappropriate introduction of sexual content or actions in a work-related environment, you should know how to take action in a way that will: 1-stop the unwanted behaviors, and 2-give you appropriate documentation should you need to report it.

Do… Say “no” the first time and every time. For example, if you are being exposed to comments of a sexual nature (whether they are being directed at you or not), stop the conversation with a firm but polite statement indicating that you find it offensive. If it happens again a couple of days later, do the same things: Be polite, be firm, and ask the individual (or individuals) to stop it. Document each time you have this conversation, and if it drags on or escalates, consider taking further action.

Don’t… be so embarrassed or ashamed that you hide a sexual harassment situation that is affecting your ability to function at work. Sexual harassment is unacceptable, unprofessional, and illegal. You don’t have to tolerate it, and you do have recourses and options. At least discuss it with trusted friends or a family member or mentor, and consider that a final option may be to simply leave the organization and find another job.

Do… document it. This doesn’t need to be elaborate: Create a diary-type log that includes the dates of each incident, who was involved, what was said or done (vulgar language and all), how you responded, and any subsequent conversations about the incident. Be as thorough and objective as you can, and keep the tone factual and professional. Should you decide to take further action – such as reporting the incident to a superior or consulting an attorney – this log will be an important record.

Don’t… personally engage in bullying, teasing, or harassing your fellow employees or colleagues – ever. Remember that what may seem a harmless remark to one person may deeply offend someone else, and even casual group conversations over coffee can drift into the realm of “inappropriate sexual content”. If your organization has fostered a culture where this type of behavior is tolerated or even condoned, we urge you to consider making a change.

Do… be a champion of ethical and professional change. If you feel you are being harassed or exposed to abusive behavior in your workplace, you should consider taking action. Your first recourse is to discuss the situation with your human resources representative (if there is one), your supervisor, or (if your supervisor has been a party to the harassment) then to his or her supervisor. In a small business, this could be a managing director or owner. Bring your log (now a formal memorandum), state your case, and request clarification of the company’s policy on sexual harassment. By putting the issue on record, you are taking the first important step in protecting yourself – and every one of your fellow employees – from having to tolerate one of the most shameful realities of the contemporary workplace.



CAREER TALK: How to find and keep good employees
A human resources guide for gallery owners and directors.

In the eyes of many people just entering the arts business, galleries are the apex of glamour and excitement, and a job with a gallery – any job – seems to fulfill every wish they’d had as they toiled over their art history coursework.
However, as one of the last remaining wholly unregulated business sectors in the U.S., galleries as a whole are a bit erratic when it comes to workplace practices such as medical benefits, paid overtime, formal job descriptions, and providing training and career paths for employees. Many are family-owned businesses, which can carry their own set of staffing issues and workplace challenges.

What can gallery owners, directors, and managers do to stop the revolving door and the wild swings in staff morale that often go with gallery life? A few simple things: become mindful about who and how you recruit. Focus on staff training and development, and teach your staff how to be good managers. Set rules and boundaries that create a positive, professional environment. Establish livable salaries and offer employee benefits. This article outlines five relatively simple steps gallery directors and managers can take to recruit and retain good employees.

1. Don’t just hire – Recruit. It is important that staff be selected with the same care and consideration that is given to selecting artists and planning exhibitions. Let’s be honest: not everyone may be well suited to working in a gallery environment. Unlike museums or other arts organizations, galleries are frankly commercial businesses whose fundamental focus is sales. For someone whose interests are more curatorial, this may not be the right career choice. Consider retaining the services of a professional staffing and recruitment company that specializes in the arts and culture business. They will work with you to develop a job description for the position, and define the specific skills and qualifications that are needed. Appropriate candidates will be screened, and you will meet the 3 or 4 candidates whom the recruiter believes make most sense for the position within your organization. For the hiring manager, this may be considerably more efficient than trying to sort through an email box full of two- or three-hundred resumes from an online job-board listing.

2. Offer employee benefits. Few things are as motivating to employees as receiving benefits from their employer. A standard in most industries, medical and dental benefits are a good place to start. For small organizations that can’t afford to pay for full coverage, a benefits consultant can advise you about plans that let employees contribute to their coverage with pre-tax dollars – a welcome benefit in itself. Paid time off is another excellent benefit that can provide a significant return in employee goodwill. If your gallery has frequent evening or weekend openings, consider offering paid overtime for staff who work these events. There are even benefits you can provide that give right back to you, such as offering an Employee Referral bonus to employees who refer friends or colleagues for positions within your organization. This can save you on recruitment and staffing agency fees, and also create a channel for obtaining ongoing feedback on how your staff feels about your workplace.

3. Provide written job descriptions. Some people may consider job descriptions tedious (or even unnecessary), but providing written job descriptions is one of the fundamentals for having a positive, disciplined workplace. At the very minimum, a job description defines a position’s title, reporting structure, key responsibilities and tasks, and provides a framework for the employee to understand how their performance will be evaluated (and what skills they need to master in order to advance within the organization). When a senior manager reviews the descriptions for all positions in their department, he or she should be able to draw up a simple organizational chart that shows the reporting relationships among all team members within the gallery (click here [LINK] to see a sample gallery organizational chart)

4. Grow good managers from within. In our experience, there is no such thing as a ‘born manager’, and even those with a great deal of experience will benefit from coaching and mentoring throughout their careers. The challenge for the gallery owner or director is to cultivate and grow good managers from within, identifying valuable skill sets, providing training and development opportunities, and establishing career paths for employees at all levels -- regardless of whether a gallery has four or forty employees. In our recent Art Career Inventory™ survey, we found that the single most important non salary-related issue among respondents was lack of a career path.

5. Create a positive work environment. To keep and grow good employees, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide a stable, rewarding and productive work environment. Create a calm and orderly workplace with space for each employee to do his or her work. Treat your employees with courtesy and professionalism and instruct them to do the same. Establish ground rules and policies regarding paid time off, overtime, and create and enforce a formal policy regarding sexual harassment. Offer benefits such as access to professional training opportunities, and empower your managers to work with their staffs to create career paths for their team-members and direct reports. By doing so, you will continue to attract and retain gifted and qualified professionals who will, in turn, reward you with continued business growth and success.

To download a complimentary copy of the Executive Summary of Thomas & Associates’ survey, The State of the Arts: Art Career Inventory™ click here.

A snapshot of how different gallery professionals are shaping their careers.

GALLERY DIRECTOR: Tim W. has been the Gallery Director of a small but extremely successful Los Angeles gallery for nearly two years since accepting the promotion and transfer from Associate Director of the gallery’s New York branch. With eight years in the gallery business, Tim is confident that he has been meeting the high professional and aesthetic standards of the gallery’s New York-based owners, and is personally very proud of his success in expanding the gallery’s West Coast and Asian client base, reputation and sales. On a day-to-day basis, he is responsible for all aspects of running the gallery, from sales and publicity, to scheduling and supervising installation of exhibitions. He oversees a staff of two – a registrar and an administrative assistant –- and enjoys a high level of autonomy. After five years with the organization the gallery’s owners trust his judgment and Tim has perfected the skill of communicating with them in a way that keeps them in the loop on key decisions without inviting micro-management. He enjoys his curatorial responsibilities and feels his MA degree in art history is being put to good use in planning exhibitions, but also values the opportunities he’s had to develop his leadership, management and organizational skills through professional training and development courses – resources he’s been encouraged to access by his supervisors since he started with the organization.

FINANCIAL CONTROLLER: Alicia A. joined the staff of a downtown New York gallery as Financial Controller only six months ago, but she has experience turning around troubled art businesses, and has earned a reputation as “the person” to call when a family-owned gallery has grown beyond its management capabilities. Alicia reports directly to the owners of the Gallery, and is responsible for all financial, accounting, and business analysis functions for the company, as well as overseeing all aspects of human resources. Her new policies included instituting a performance-based management system, developing and implementing an employee benefit plan, and creating employee files and an annual appraisal system. Alicia works closely with the Managing Director of the gallery to provide analytical support to the organization’s strategic planning, budgeting, and forecasting functions. She also provides management oversight to the sales process and works with the sales management team to determine metrics for evaluating the sales staff’s performance and incentives. After six months of hard work and a lot of negotiating all around, Alicia is satisfied that the gallery is settling into its new and more orderly procedures.

GALLERY REGISTRAR: Jonathan B., an Registrar at a prestigious Chicago art gallery, has been in his current role for about two years. He’d started with the gallery right out of college as an art handler/installer and worked closely with the registrar, offering to take on additional tasks to learn the ropes. Now that his mentor has moved on and Jonathan is the Gallery Registrar, his most important responsibilities revolve around managing shipments of the gallery’s inventory of 20th century and contemporary art to clients, exhibitions, and art fairs around the world. Any time an item moves in or out of the gallery, he oversees packing and crating, is responsible for reporting on the condition of all items, and for managing inventory and documentation. He is intensely detail-oriented and a skilled multi-tasker, and both his colleagues and vendors appreciate his pleasant demeanor and prompt follow-up communications. The gallery is growing and there has been some discussion of a new branch opening in Dubai, and Jonathan is considering how some international experience might work with his career path.

ARTISTS LIAISON: Sarah L. graduated with a BA in Marketing and a minor in Art History. She took a job as a gallery assistant in New York and developed her abilities for managing events, logistics and budgeting as well as strong project and financial management skills. Her boss introduced her to the Director of Artist Relations & Client Services, who saw Sarah’s potential, and brought her in as an Assistant to the Gallery’s growing staff of Artists Liaisons. After a couple of years of hard work and training, Sarah was promoted to Artists Liaison, responsible for a group of three emerging German artists for whom the Gallery is the exclusive U.S. representative. Sarah speaks fluent German and her artists have flourished under her management. As an Artist Liaison, Sarah works with the gallery owners to develop the sales strategy for each artist and to define the calendar of events – the exhibitions, art fairs, artist commissions, appearances and special events – at which each artist will be featured. She also is the artist’s liaison for all installations, shipping, storage, and registrarial-related matters, and works directly with her artists to manage logistics, timelines and shipping as well as finances and sales. Sarah’s first annual performance assessment is coming up, and she is confident she will do well: she has excellent relationships with all of her artists and their sales have grown significantly, thanks to Sarah’s creative recommendations for venues and flawless execution of events.

GALLERY ASSISTANT: Emily R.’s best friend from college called her with one key piece of advice after the friend started her new job as a Gallery Assistant in SoHo: “Learn Photoshop.” Emily took her friend’s advice, and was delighted when her passion for contemporary European art, excellent French, and certificate in Advanced Photoshop landed her a job at a well-known Midtown gallery. On a typical day, Emily and a team of four other assistants are deployed over a variety of projects: planning an event or opening, updating the databases for a mailing; managing internal scheduling; and handling a variety of client and artist-related mini-emergencies. There are evening events two or three nights a week during the busy art fair seasons, and Emily and the other assistants have worked out a schedule to make sure each is covered. The hours are long, but Emily enjoys the fast-paced environment and the camaraderie she has built with the other Assistants. After she has passed the one-year mark with her current employer, she hopes to find out more about the sales side of the business.

POINT OF VIEW: Finding great bosses in the Gallery business
An interview with Celene Ryan, Director of the Hosfelt Gallery’s New York branch.

Q: Tell us about your first gallery job, and your first boss.
A: I started working in a gallery as an intern while I was still in school, and continued there, working at the front desk, after I graduated. Unbeknownst to me, the gallery was going under, which was surprising because they handled a lot of really great, well-established artists. Today, after nearly 20 years in the business, I understand that it’s the nature of the animal. I had a really lovely boss but because things weren’t working financially, the job wasn’t comfortable. There were all sorts of stresses that I just wasn’t aware of. After I’d been there about a year, I mustered my courage and asked my boss for a raise, and she just said “No.” About a month later she told me, “Well, we’re closing.” I still remember the guts it took for me to ask for that raise. One of the things I hate about the gallery business is that they treat you as if you should consider yourself privileged to work there – when really, it’s just a job.

Q: Tell us about the best boss you’ve ever had – and why you feel that way.
A: There have been several – my current employer, my boss at the hedge fund where I worked for a year when I took a break from the gallery business, and another boss in the arts. All three shared many of the same traits – there was a very specific job description, and they trusted me to do that job. There wasn’t any passive-aggressive “I’m going to give someone else the same responsibilities because I don’t trust you to do the job well.” It was all about being very frank, having really good communication, and being open to ideas or suggestions. That’s where you create room for your employees to grow – when you let them really invest themselves in the position, and it’s not all about executing someone else’s ideas.

“It was all about being very frank, having really good communication, and being open to ideas or suggestions. That’s where you create room for your employees to grow …” Q: What was your worst experience working in a gallery?
A: I’ve worked for so many galleries that were just nightmares. One of my most memorable moments occurred when I went on an interview and the director and owner looked me up and down and asked, “How old are you anyway?” I remember thinking, “Wow – you really have no sense of professionalism.” Unfortunately, it’s really common that people in galleries have no concept of how to run a professional business because they’ve never done anything else, or it’s a family-run business. They feel they can behave any way they want because there are no repercussions. Family-run businesses in particular are tricky because they make their own rules, and it’s hard to know what those rules are. They can behave outrageously, and who do you report it to? All you can do is speak your mind, but you might inadvertently be punished for that.

“One big red flag is when an organization doesn’t have a well-defined structure, and well-defined boundaries around who’s responsible for what.”

Q: Have you ever left a job because of a terrible boss?
A: Yes -- in fact, except for when I was working at a museum and funding was cut, it’s the only reason I’ve ever left a job. It took me a year or so to get there, because you have this feeling that if you just worked harder, you could really understand what they want from you. It becomes a kind of mind-reading exercise, as if a job is a puzzle you should have to figure out – and that’s just wrong.
One big red flag is when an organization doesn’t have a well-defined structure, and well-defined boundaries around who’s responsible for what. I remember one organization where everybody was a scapegoat – there was no structure, and nobody would take responsibility for anything. Under those circumstances, everything just falls apart.
Another major red flag is if someone asks you to do something illegal, and tells you, “Oh, everybody does it.” Walk away quickly. No one should ever be put in that position, and it’s unfortunately pretty common in the gallery business.

Q: Do you have any practical advice for recent graduates who want to break into the gallery business?
A: Come to the interview with questions. As a prospective employee, you should be able to know everything that’s happening. You should be able to ask about anything and everything and get a straight answer. The people you meet with should be transparent and honest.
Also, know that salary can be negotiable, assuming you have appropriate skills and experience. Approach the job with the attitude that you are valuable and they need you. A lot of people will take whatever they can get the first time out, and they end up being abused. If you walk into a position feeling you’re not valued, it just fosters resentment and creates a bad environment for everybody.
Ask about what the job actually entails. I’m always wary when someone’s trying to sell me on how great their business is – I want to hear about everything from “You get to put postage on letters” to “You will help carry out exhibitions.” If it sounds too good, they’re probably setting me up to do all their bulk mailings.

“Beware if there is no structure around things like a specific number of sick days, vacation time, and performance evaluations after a certain period. It took me three jobs to get it” Q: What about employee benefits – paid time off, overtime, and those types of things?
A: That gets back to the issue of having structure and boundaries. Beware if there is no structure around things like a specific number of sick days, vacation time, and performance evaluations after a certain period. It took me three jobs to get it: people gloss over it, saying things like “Oh, don’t worry about it, we’re very flexible and open and we want everyone to be happy.” Then, when you say you need a day off, it’s “No, not now” and they put it off and put it off. If it’s not in writing somewhere, you have no leverage.
Celene Ryan, Director of the Hosfelt Gallery’s New York branch. Hosfelt Gallery was founded by Todd Hosfelt in 1996 to exhibit emerging artists. With a 5,000 square foot exhibition space in San Francisco and a 7,500 square foot space in New York, Hosfelt Gallery presents 13 major exhibitions a year by internationally known artists including Liliana Porter, Russell Crotty, Shahzia Sikander, Jim Campbell, Marco Maggi, Byron Kim, Alfredo Jaar, Stefan Kürten and Michael Light. A focus of the program continues to be emerging artists such as Timothy Horn (Australia), Gideon Rubin (London), Jutta Haeckel (Germany), Driss Ouadahi (Germany), Crystal Liu (Canada), Anoka Faruqee (Los Angeles), and Nelleke Beltjens (The Netherlands).

Q: Any advice about handling sexual harassment in the workplace?
A: Oh, that’s really tricky – trying to figure out the boundaries and what will happen if you say something. You’ll never be let go, but you’ll be treated as if you don’t exist. This ties in with what we were just talking about, regarding a professional workplace – if the gallery doesn’t present you with some basic information about your rights and their policies, it should be a huge red flag. Because that puts you in the position of having to ask, and I’ve personally had the experience of having my employer get really indignant. That’s when you realize they think there are no issues – that they can do whatever they want and it’s not a problem. Galleries are little, tiny businesses and they know that you have no real recourse. I mean, is an intern going to hire a lawyer and really follow through? It’s horrible, but people just tend to let it slide. If that kind of thing is happening and your boss seems to think it’s okay, you’re not going to convince him otherwise. Sometimes it’s better to leave gracefully – and then file a report.

Q: What kind of boss do you try to be?
A: I try to be straightforward because I think your job should be really clear – I don’t want people guessing about what they should be doing and what their priorities are. Communication is essential, and I want people to know what my expectations are, so they can have attainable goals and feel the satisfaction of doing a good job. I want my staff to feel like they have real autonomy, and to ensure they have clear-cut, very individualized responsibilities so they can take ownership of something, and not feel like they’re in competition with anyone else in the office.
Finally, I want people to trust me because I want to trust them. If I can tell my boss how I think my job could be done more efficiently, or in a bigger, better way, I should feel comfortable doing that and then be allowed to move forward with the ideas. I mean, why wouldn’t you want your business to run better? Although there are bosses who don’ want to hear that; years ago, I had a boss who took it personally that I had ideas about how to run the business. He felt challenged, so he would pooh-pooh everything and tell me why it wouldn’t work, constantly stepping on my ideas. So, I stopped – and eventually, I left.
EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES FAQs: Writing Job Descriptions
Increase your understanding of standard employment terms and practices.

Q: Help! I am the brand new Director of a Philadelphia gallery, and my boss has just asked me to draft job descriptions for my four direct reports. I’ve been here less than 2 months and I am still learning who people are and what they do – how am I supposed to write their job descriptions?

A: Congratulations – you have a terrific opportunity to do a quick, self-directed course on management best practices, and to develop your own skills as a manager. We suggest you begin by scheduling a meeting with each of your reports, and explaining to them what you’re going to be doing, and why. Job descriptions are an excellent idea, and most employees – particularly junior staff – will be thrilled to learn about your project. Prepare a brief outline of what a job description entails (see below) and hand out copies to each member of your team. Give them a few days to work on it and encourage them to come to you with any questions.

At the end of this process, sit down with your team’s drafts and compare them: Do both of your Event Coordinators have roughly the same ideas about what their jobs entail? Does your Sales Director’s job sound more like her Assistant’s? Now it’s your turn to revise the descriptions, to reconcile which responsibilities go where, and to make sure all of the necessary people at the appropriate level cover the priority functions. Meet with each of your reports one-on-one and review your recommendations. Answer any questions they might have, and prepare final drafts for your meeting with your boss. If you find significant inconsistencies – for example, if your registrar is doing double-duty as a sales assistant – be prepared to discuss any issues with your supervisor, and to provide clear, well thought-out recommendations on how to resolve them.

Title What is the position title?
Department In what department does this position exist?
Reporting Structure To whom does this position report directly?
Overall Responsibility What is the primary role/function for this position within the organization?
What responsibilities and tasks does the job entail? (this should be a bulleted list of duties; each should include specifics and be built around an ‘action verb’ such as “Manage” “Develop” “Support” or “Implement”)
Consults With … With whom does this position work on a regular basis? If an assistant role, whom does it support?
Qualifications What skills and experience are required to fulfill this position? This may include educational background, prior experience, knowledge of specific software programs and other skill sets.
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