Interview with Mr. John Weber, Curator of Education and Public Programs

Interview with Mr. John Weber, Curator of Education and Public Programs

at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

What advantages do employees with a graduate degree in the visual arts bring to your company?

The more art background that our employees have, the better off they are. For example, if we have a choice between hiring someone in the Marketing Department with an MA in art history or someone who doesn't have one, then obviously the person with the background in art has an advantage. They understand our subject matter; they care about it; they do a better job because the work is more meaningful to them.

Are there specific positions at your business that must be filled by employees with a graduate degree?

They tend to be requested, rather than required. But, certainly, we want an MA or MFA for our curator positions and in our education department. There are some positions in publications and editorial where an MA or an advanced degree in conservation would be a requirement. Also, among our art installers, although they are not required, they are common.

When considering candidates for employment, how important is their graduate school's reputation?

It depends on the position. For our curators, someone from a stronger program would have a leg up.

What advice can you give to graduating MA/MFA students on how to find and get the best job?

If you want to work in a museum, then get as much museum experience as you can while you're still in school. Work with museums through internships; if there's a college gallery, work there. Polish your interviewing skills.

Study the history of the institute you're interested in. If they don't have a position this year, they might the next, so stay in touch! Send a postcard to let them know that you're still interested - that kind of thing lets them know that you're really serious. I get 50 to 300 applicants per opening, depending on the position - for a more general position, like an Education Program Assistant, I recently received over 250 resumes; for a slightly higher level in Adult Programs, I recently had 60 resumes, and 30 of them were quite good.

Being realistic is a good idea, too. Recognize that these jobs are very competitive in urban areas. If you're willing to work in smaller cities, it will be easier to find a position - especially if you have a strong graduate degree.

Do you recruit from any specific art schools/colleges for employees? Why or why not?

No. We advertise in relevant publications, and we haven't had any trouble getting strong applicants. We do periodically look locally for interns from some of the local schools - then, if we get someone good and a job turns up, there's a ripple effect.

What's the salary range for a newly-hired MA/MFA graduate?

From the high $20,000s to $95,000, depending on the position.

How is the job market right now for MA/MFA graduates?

I don't really know. Career placement departments will know better. I can say that an MFA is not seen same way as an MBA, where there's a huge job market. MFA graduates are often aiming at a teaching career or developing a body of art work. It's a professional degree, but not in the same sense as a law degree.

There are a lot of art jobs out there in galleries and auction houses. An advanced degree helps you get an interview, and that's often the difference between getting a job and not getting the job. I will often weed out a stack of resumes based on who has an advanced degree.

Tell us about some of your MA/MFA employees.

They have an ability to grow more, take on higher level tasks or projects. I can delegate to them because they know more, and they have a broader, deeper experience with the art world. Because of that, they have more confidence when they come in.

What does your company do?

We present and preserve art and make it accessible to the broad public.

Please write and answer three other questions you can think of that would benefit prospective graduate students.

  1. Why get a graduate degree in the visual arts?
    Do it because you want to do it, for your own intellectual and emotional growth - that's the most important thing. A good graduate program will push you to grow in ways that you don't anticipate. Take advantage of it in as many ways as you can. It's very easy in graduate school to hunker down too much in the studio without looking at all the stuff that's happening around you. It's precious time - take advantage of it.
  2. When is the best time to get a graduate degree?
    It's not a bad thing to take a couple of years off to travel. You should investigate programs around the country - don't just go to the closest one because it might not be right for you. The students I've seen who are a little older get the most out of grad school.
  3. How do you know which program is right for you?
    I received my MFA in visual arts from the University of California San Diego, which was one of the finest art schools in the country at the time with a very distinguished faculty. It was incredibly beneficial to be around those people, and I realized it even more after I left.
    So, check out the people who are teaching at the programs that you want to go to. Are they compatible with your interests? Is the department big enough to let you change directions? Go to the strongest program you can get into because those programs push you more. Go to programs that are exhibiting a lot, preferably nationally and internationally; you'll get a better sense of how the real world operates.

Employer Profile: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Number of Employees: 300

Salary range for your MA/MFA graduates: High $20,000s to $95,000

Degrees important to your hiring decisions: MA-MFA in management, art history or museum studies

Your Mission: To present and preserve art and make it accessible to the broad public.

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