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Art Fund’s Student Opportunities funding programme is helping museums and galleries to access a new generation of talent

Dominique Nok, Curatorial Assistant at Midlands Art Centre, installing the exhibition ‘Sharon Walters: Seeing Ourselves’. The Curatorial Assistant role is a paid opportunity for students supported by Art Fund. © Tegen Kimbley/ Art Fund 2022

Originally launched as a pilot in 2018, Art Fund’s Student Opportunities programme has supported students and museums through the turbulence of the pandemic. As part of the organisation’s innovative approach to enriching the sector, Art Fund continues to facilitate new opportunities for students in the workplace – enabling museums to recruit effectively in the process.

MuseumNext caught up with the Art Fund team to find out more about the programme and why now is the perfect time for museums to apply.

Art Fund created the Student Opportunities Funding Programme as the natural follow-on to the Student Art Pass – an initiative that currently provides over 28,600 students with enhanced access to UK arts and culture venues.  The programme presents an opportunity to share learning and skills, while also acting as a platform to promote the professional opportunities available within the sector.

As Sarah Kaye, Senior Marketing Manager – Students at Art Fund explains:

“The success of the Student Art Pass shows how readily younger audiences are looking to engage with museums and art galleries on a regular basis.

“University is a time when museums and galleries can be really helpful spaces for young people. As students form an identity and develop their interests, museums and galleries can support that exploration. Whether learning from the past, looking to the future or evaluating the present, there is a museum collection or gallery that can help.”

New Hall Art Collection’s Curatorial Assistants enjoy a workshop in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s textiles department. The Curatorial Assistant roles are a paid opportunity for students supported by Art Fund. © My Linh Le/ Art Fund 2022

That early exposure to arts and culture encourages many students to pursue a career in the sector – a goal that the Student Opportunities Funding Programme is designed specifically to make a reality.

Rob Dingle, Programme Partnerships Manager at Art Fund says:

“By funding placements, our hope is that students who take part in this programme will go on to be the next generation of curators, art directors and leaders in those cultural institutions.

“We also know the changes that have taken place in museums over the last couple of years have highlighted the need for new skillsets – perhaps those that we wouldn’t typically associate with arts and culture roles. Creating space for new ideas within cultural institutions is an important function of the programme.”

Bolstering digital skills is just one area where museums and galleries can benefit. The natural digital literacy of students puts them at an advantage during a time of rapid transformation in the sector. And it’s for this reason that the grant aims to provide access to a broad range of projects with different requirements and needs for expertise.

Post-pandemic there has been a significant uplift in interest to access the funded placements, according to the Art Fund team.  As applications have increased, so has the diversity of placements being offered, including roles with the likes of The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Scottish Maritime Museum, MAC Birmingham and London’s Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture.

Funded placements secured for 2022 are providing students with the opportunity to work on everything from the creation of museum wall murals to the development of guided tours of burning man sculptures in the grounds of Chatsworth House.

Talk with Curator of Fashion and Textiles, National Museums Scotland, Glasgow School of Art, 2017 © Chris Close 2017

The Student Art Pass team will also be taking a group of students on a tour of all this year’s shortlisted Art Fund Museum of the Year entrants with a view to capturing content to share with their young peers across social media to celebrate the shortlist and inspire museum visiting over the summer.

A shift in perspective and an exchange of knowledge

“The role of museums and galleries has changed over the last few years,” Rob explains. “They were, and still are, great learning resources but they’re also now viewed as places to bring groups together and help people process, digest and contemplate.

“Museums come to us and say they want to reach younger audiences and look for advice on how to address that.  From our perspective, engaging with students and forming a youth panel has so many benefits.

“Students come with knowledge, understanding and their own expertise so it can be really useful for museums to encourage that mutual learning and shared benefit. It’s no longer about simply taking on an intern to work on the most basic tasks at bottom rung of the career ladder.”

Sarah adds:

“Museums increasingly want to attract young people into their institutions to safeguard their future and young people want to get greater value from the arts. So, it’s a real two-way process.

“It’s easy to forget when you work for a museum or gallery that it’s not always obvious how such organisations work. This grant really lifts the veil for many young people and we really see that in our student feedback. “

Applying for the Student Opportunities programme

With a more streamlined application process and growing interest from UK institutions, Art Fund are expecting it to be a busy 2022. For organisations considering the Student Opportunities programme, Rob encourages people to get in touch quickly to avoid disappointment. And he offers reassurance to anyone concerned about the prospect of a mountain of paperwork:

“The Grant has to go towards paying students but we work really closely with museums and galleries at the early stages to support them through what we hope is a really simple applications process.  We work hard to make sure it isn’t an arduous task and we’re here to chat through ideas, options and answer questions to anyone interested in learning more about funding a student placement.”

The Art Fund Student Opportunities Funding Programme will consider applications for up to £10,000 to fund student placements.  For more information, you can contact Programme Partnerships Manager, Rob Dingle at and visit

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