Working front-of-house can be an ideal way to build skills

William Tregaskes, 16.07.2018
Case study from Cynon Valley Museum and Galleries, Wales
Working front-of-house (FoH) in museums can be the ideal opportunity to build skills and start your career in museums.

You will use practical skills every day, from operating the electronic point of sale and booking systems to organising visitor flow, through to managing people and overseeing health and safety procedures.

Those involved in the operational side of a museum know the site inside and out – where everything is and how to maintain it. These skills are not always glamourous, but they are essential, particularly for those working in small museums.

FoH roles also provide specific skills that are vital to the modern museum professional, such as public speaking, gained from welcoming visitors or leading teaching sessions and guided tours.

By engaging with the public every day, an FoH team member learns what forms engagement work, what information is accessible, and what isn’t, and what interests people. Staff need to be able to research their museum’s collection but also how to analyse what sells in the shop and know what is causing that leak.

Working in FoH means you are the interface between museums and people – you are, to many, the museum. You will experience the pressures placed on museums to diversify incomes, sell more, welcome more, and become accessible all at once.

You will also have insights in marketing campaigns, museum strategies and policies. You will see the importance of making heritage accessible. You will see exhibitions, display panels, audioguides and more in use, and you will learn what works and what doesn’t. If a display panel doesn’t say something a visitor wants to know, there is a good chance they will ask you.

These skills and experiences in FoH will be fundamental to your career development, and may change how you value and understand museums.

Despite being a great place to start your career, and since co-founding @FoHMuseums, I have come across many people working in FoH who feel undervalued.

This has been epitomised by museum professionals working in this area who use the prefix “just” when talking about their role. I know – I’ve said it myself, to visitors, family and friends.

But as well as undervaluing myself, this undervalues the work I do. Giving tours, generating income and making heritage more accessible is not “just” anything, it is vital to the success of any museum.

But it’s not always easy. FoH is a high-pressured environment where everything needs to be done professionally, quickly and with a smile. Staff need to be passionate about making museums accessible, and be willing to share the heritage that museums preserve.

We are full of knowledge; of the day-to-day running of the site, of the collection, of the language you need to use to engage with diverse audiences. We facilitate visitor interactions with collections on display, and can make them relevant, accessible and human.

And we are vital to keeping museums open, particularly in a period of falling public investment. As well as ticket sales and running shops and cafes, FoH helps to make after-hour events possible.

Without front-of-house, you don’t have a museum.

William Tregaskes is the museum coordinator at Cynon Valley Museum and Galleries and the co-founder of @FoHMuseums