The Risky Business

By Kelly Burgess

I’ve never been much of a risk taker. I’ve always known exactly what I want to do and what my next step in life and my career will be. I’m a planner by nature. This all changed however in the middle of 2014. Tired of the monotony of my Canberra life and craving a sense of adventure and a challenge I decided to leave my job as an Assistant Curator of Art at the Australian War Memorial, pack up my apartment and move half way around the world to live and work in London.

There were so many things that excited me about this move. I couldn’t wait to be immersed in the craziness of London life and having Europe on my doorstep was a mega bonus as well. However, what I wanted most out of this experience was the opportunity to work for an international gallery or museum. I wanted to learn from the best in the art world and develop key skills that I could bring back to Australia. Having worked as an Assistant Curator across a number of mediums – art to historic and contemporary audio-visual material for a number of years I was somewhat confident that it wouldn’t take me too long to get a job in the London art world.

Oh god was I wrong.


What followed was the hardest nine months of my life. I spent all my time applying for arts related jobs – sending what felt like hundreds of emails, trying to get a foot in the door by interning or volunteering and attending countless networking nights. I received virtually no response – no rejection emails or calls. I simply heard nothing. It was heartbreaking.


I was devastated that my London experience wasn’t turning out how I had hoped and that this gigantic risk I had taken wasn’t going to pay off. I began to think seriously about coming home. One morning I saw an Exhibitions Officer job advertised at one of the major Museums –Imperial War Museums. I thought this is it, one final attempt. I submitted my application and couple of days later I was asked in for an interview. Two days later they offered me the job.


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For the next year and a half I grew to love my job and the people that I worked with. Leading the project management of key exhibitions, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible contemporary artists and photographers as well as significant galleries and contractors in London and across Europe. The diversity of the exhibitions that I worked on and the level of responsibility I was given, far exceeded the level of professional development I thought I would obtain whilst in London. For me, I was happy – loving work and London life. The risk had paid off.

Unfortunately my London dream came to an end in June last year. My working visa ran out and my employer wasn’t able to sponsor me, so I had to resign from my job, leave London and make my way back to Australia. I’m currently six months into my job search with no end in sight. It’s been exceedingly difficult and I keep hoping that maybe some of my London luck has followed me home and I’ll land another dream job soon. I don’t know if I will, but what I do know is that I’ve got to keep trying, moving

I will say this, moving to London was hands down; no question about it the absolute BEST decision I have made in my life. Not only did I have an incredible professional experience, but I also made some truly amazing friendships and I got to travel the world. If you’re thinking about living and working overseas, just do it. There will never be a perfect time or moment to go. You just need to have a little bit of courage, a lot of faith in yourself and a passion to succeed. For me, I’m thinking about taking the risk again and moving back overseas. I still want the same things I did back in 2014 – adventures, challenges and new professional experiences.

Working in the arts is inherently risky. Whether you’re faced with opportunities, limitations or instabilities throughout your career, it’s often difficult to figure out how best to approach these risks.

I think that no matter what the risk is, take the leap, trust your judgement and just do it.

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