Life Changes and Career Moves
November 6th 2022 marked my first full week of official unemployment in the heritage sector after 7 years of permanent employment at a conservation job in a museum.
This is not because it was a terrible job, or because I got laid off because times are tough in heritage. It’s because I recently got married and am now planning a move to Canada at the end of January 2023. Talk about starting from scratch for the chance of a new life (and right before a recession too)!
Anyone in heritage will be able to tell you that finding a permanent job in the field with an acceptable salary is extremely difficult – even more so in conservation, so these are challenging times for me!
Just visit any of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) communities on Reddit (e.g. r/MuseumPros), and you will see what I mean.
Still, I consider it an opportunity to grow and learn and apply everything I have learned in Peru to a wonderful new job in Canada (or maybe a remote one elsewhere?).
Do you think it’s possible? How does one even go about this?
How to get a job in conservation when things look bad
As it is, I can’t apply for a work permit until I apply first for my Permanent Residence in Canada after I arrive at the end of January (while at the same time looking for a place to live).
The work permit takes around two months to be issued. This means that I will not be allowed to work in Canada until at least mid-April or May.
This means I have a number of barriers to overcome:
- No Permanent Resident paperwork yet because I will apply for it after I arrive
- No working permit
- No valid driver’s license until I get through the paperwork
- No local network in the field (not 100% true, but I will elaborate why further down)
- No full awareness of where the jobs are
- No place to live
- No income or credit score
- No car
- No fellow student conservators who just graduated with me from a Canadian program
- No local paperwork for my degrees
- No recent object portfolio because I’ve spent most of my past 7 years doing preventive conservation, research, education projects, grant writing and area management
- Jobs in conservation are few and far between
- Did I mention I’m from PERU and moving to CANADA in JANUARY?!
How many of the above list would you tick for yourself when looking for a job in art conservation?
It’s difficult to get a job in conservation
At this point, you really could be thinking, if this lady gets something, anyone can. The point I’m trying to make is that when you look at how difficult things can be, it is easy to become discouraged. However, this will be an exercise in tenacity and perseverance - nevermind a challenge to my mental health over a period of time.
You are welcome to make your own list of why finding a job in conservation or heritage will be hard. This is not so that you can feel terrible, but so that you can look at your challenges in the eye and so that you can address them one by one.
But it’s not impossible to get a job in heritage - other people do it somehow
Now that we’ve looked at the negatives, let’s look at the positives. In other words, the things that are actually in my/your control. Which of the things in the above list can I try to resolve?
In my particular case, I am currently:
- Improving my French so I can apply for jobs in French-speaking Canada as well. I got a C1 grade on the TEF Canada last year, but I could probably improve that, if not on paper, at least in practice. Do you have a language you can work on?
- Working towards the Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate through Coursera and reading voraciously about social media marketing because I want to grow my own personal brand and website to continue to cater to the heritage community and those interested in our field. What alternate skills can you grow while you look?
- Growing my social media presence through my regular Twitter and an updated Instagram account aimed at people outside the heritage field with an interest in museums and heritage conservation. I literally had 88 followers on my Instagram last week because it used to be private. I have 115 now. Do you think I can get it to 1000 before December 31st? We’ll see! Are you leveraging your existing network?
- Writing new blog posts like this one and helping out at the Reddit community for people interested in conservation whenever I have some free time. Are you volunteering somewhere in a related post or creating content?
- Making events and courses starting with a French-style salon through Interintellect on Thursday, December 1st called The Other Conservation: The Role Of Heritage In The 21st Century Are you looking for like/minded people?
- Helping out as a Community Member at Conserv by coordinating social media efforts to communicate the values of this exciting brand for collections environmental monitoring. Have you identified any companies you’d like to work with?
- Presenting at conferences related to conservation such as the Facing Climate Change Focus on Conservation on November 29th. How many free online conferences or webinars have you signed up for?
- Volunteering with The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) as a Vice Chair for the Talent & Participation Committee and with CECA-Peru, the education branch of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
- Networking like crazy. I am joining Linkedin groups, Facebook groups, conferences, webinars, Reddit conversations, everything and anything I can find to meet colleagues who work in the field in Canada (and elsewhere because a good network is invaluable wherever it may be located). I am offering courses when possible and meeting people in real life when they are in my area - you’d be absolutely surprised at how many people I’ve actually managed to meet in person just in the past few weeks and how many meet-ups I am lining up for the next few weeks.
I encourage you to try this exercise. How many terrible things have you identified that challenge your path in having a career in heritage and what could you do, even if it’s small, to address them? I can tell you that out of the list I just made for myself up there, nothing (except for the French) is actually difficult.
It has all just taken tons of time and outright effort. Yes, I’ve worked evenings and weekends for several years now to make it all happen up to now. I am sure you are perfectly capable of achieving this and more too.
You just have to want to do it enough to sacrifice the little free time you might have. And you know what? If you don’t want to, there’s nothing to feel bad about either. The whole point is to find something that makes you happy.
How can we help each other?
Here are some things that I intend to do right now and which you could do yourself if you are in a similar boat as me:
If you are in the Greater Toronto Area and need a volunteer or a remote aid for anything in your conservation or museum-related endeavours, let me know! I would love to meet and am willing to do what it takes as a new arrival. I can treat objects (although I’ll need to brush up a bit) and have experience setting up preventive conservation programs from scratch. I do social media and blogging. I love conservation and heritage outreach.
If you are outside of Canada and need a content creator and writer with +7 years in the museum and heritage field and an international network in conservation who could work for you remotely, I am free now and looking!
Do you need blog posts with Search Engine Optimisation to drive traffic to your heritage-related organisation? I have a 100% organic top-ranking Google result for my dew point article.
Are you looking for heritage funding? I have successfully applied before for $30,000 and $1 million for projects in museum outreach and heritage research and would love to help you achieve your goals.
Do you just want to network with me? I would love to hear from you! I don’t care if you’re a student, pre-program, collections care manager, museum director, curator, freelance conservator, history buff, etc. I don’t just want to talk to you if you can help me find a job. I want to talk to you anyway. If you’d like to have a chat with me, ask me stuff about conservation, do a collab on your podcast or social media platform, I would love to see what’s up! Do you want to do an interview or talk or rant about conservation? Do you want to know more about SEO and content marketing? Reach out to me on any of my social media accounts. Linkedin connections are okay too!
The above list applies for me. What would apply for you? What can you offer others before you ask what they can offer you?
Will this even work?
Well, I guess I can’t really tell you right now, can I? I won’t know until I either get something in heritage in Canada or finally decide to move on - whenever that may be.
All I can do right now is create opportunities for myself and see where they go. If the day comes when I decide it’s time to stop, I will do so gladly knowing that I looked at every possible path I could think of and that my happy job must lie somewhere else. I talked to as many people as I found. I volunteered in as many places as I could. I wrote everything I wanted to write. Essentially, I will make sure it is a “That’ll do, pig” moment and not a “cry myself to sleep because I failed” moment.
I do intend to keep track of how this new adventure goes because if it all works out, then I fully intend to use it as inspiration to help others overcome the barriers they are finding to joining the heritage field. If I can make a strong community and network work for me as a brand new immigrant in a new country, then I can try to make it work for you.
Always say thank you
I want to thank all of you who have supported me in my previous and current roles as a museum conservator, communicator, and volunteer.
Whether you are/were/will be a colleague, boss, fellow volunteer, community member, aspiring conservation student, Twitter friend, or Linkedin connection, I am grateful for the things you have taught me and the opportunities you have given me. Thank you for following me on my various social platforms, for engaging with my content, sharing and leaving me comments. Thank you for reaching out to me and building new connections. I look forward to being able to support you in whatever way I can now and in the future regardless of whether I stay in the field or not.
Whether I met you years ago or this week, (you know who you are!) thank you for your words of encouragement and your support. Thank you for letting me work with you, for pointing me to job boards, for flagging out job opportunitites that you saw somewhere, for giving me advice on how to stay warm in January in Canada and for sending me useful links. You are invaluable and I appreciate you. Thank you for thinking of me. I am thinking of you.
Some final advice for conservation job seekers from a fellow seeker
I have received some amazing advice lately, so here it is for you (and me!), distilled:
- Don’t stop learning, keep moving, keep meeting people. Make your CV the best you can make it with the resources available to you. Use your time wisely and keep your eyes on the prize.
- Know what you want, not just “I know I want to work in conservation/heritage/museums” but know when to want to rest, when to pivot, when to stop and when to recognise situations that are too toxic or negative to be worth it. Know when to walk away. I will tell you if/when I reach this point and I will be honest about it. I have seen many sad experiences being shared on heritage communities online and we should all know that we are more valuable than a job.
- If you are sad or discouraged, lie down and relax. Think of all the positive things that hold you up. Remember your past achievements as proof that you are capable.
- Be grateful. Even if this doesn’t work out, I will be thankful to everyone who looked out for me during the job seeking.
- Be kind. Many of us are competing with each other for the same jobs. This doesn’t mean we should be mean to each other. Maybe you get the job today, but it might be me tomorrow - and heritage is a small world. The last thing we want is to be making enemies when what we need is supportive colleagues.
- You don’t have to work in heritage to be involved with heritage. If you/we “fail” to get a job in the field, no one said we can’t continue to be involved in other capacities. No one said you can’t go to museums anymore or write blogs or make podcasts or be a member of the professional organisations or attend conferences. You/We still can. And it’s not a failure if you find another job that pays your rent. A job is just a job. It does not define who we are - although it can certainly feel that way. If I end up not working in heritage, I can assure you this website will still be here.
- Network like that song by Roberto Carlos that says he wants to have a million friends. Create meaningful relationships with your colleagues and peers. They will help and support you. If you’ve never heard this 70s gem from Brazil, here’s the song!
Thank you for reading! I’ll keep you posted on the international journey of this conservator!