Gillian Fruh is the Manager for Exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, overseeing the logistical planning, project development, installation and implementation of exhibitions at The Met 5th Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters. She leads a team of project managers who are responsible for working with staff across the Museum to ensure the successful implementation of exhibitions that come in on time and within budget. Before The Met, Gillian was the Head Project Manager at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She holds a BA in Art History from Stonehill College and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. We could not wait to pick her brain about working in the art world and get her advice on how to make yourself standout in your workplace. We hope you enjoy reading this Frank Talk as much as we enjoyed asking Gillian these questions.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
Working in the art world is incredible because you are surrounded by highly intelligent experts in their field – I think of curators as professors who have the privilege of contextualizing their ideas in three dimensions. To make it you need to balance staying relevant, relatable, and working incredibly hard.
What is something you encounter often with employees that tests your patience?
Working in art museums, I sometimes find that people involved in making exhibitions are missing the “big picture:” how their decisions (whether it is a key loan from a far-flung place, or how an elaborate lighting scheme might be difficult to implement or maintain) impact the overall project budget and scope. Part of the challenge of my job is to educate decision-makers about how their decisions affect the institution – both financial AND human resources – and empower them to make choices in a way that is not heavy handed or overly hierarchal, and maintains the integrity of the curatorial vision for the show.
What has an employee done that happily surprised you?
I love it when I give an employee a task and they take it to the next level and make it their own. I always appreciate when an employee takes the time to prepare me for a difficult conversation or a tricky presentation without me asking – feeling the support from a team is super important in a high energy workplace like an art museum.
What makes a person hirable?
A combination of relevant experience, obvious hard work ethic, attention to detail, reliability, and solid people skills.
What is the most frowned upon trait for an employee?
Laziness and entitlement – expecting that once you are in and get the job, the institution owes you interesting projects or access to living artists/events/travel. The fact of the matter is, we all have to prove we deserve the job, even after years of experience.
What are things a person can do to make them stand out in the workplace?
Never say no to a task – no matter how rote, obvious or uninteresting – and take every challenge with a deep breath, patience, and 100% effort. Get in early and stay late when it matters. Bring a consistent mood to the office every day.
What does professional mean to you?
Very similar to my answer about what makes people stand out in the workplace!
Are there any tips you can give for increasing your online presence? Whether with your LinkedIn, Art Frankly or other accounts?
A good headshot makes a big difference – many college alumni organizations offer events with free headshots and it is definitely worthwhile to have one on hand.
Make sure you come off as impressive, but also approachable: we’re all human, and the farther I’ve gone in my career the more I see that it is not only a marketable skill set, but also a personal connection, that really sets high achievers apart.