Sarah Coulson


If you’ve ever wondered how exhibitions in museums and galleries are put together, now’s your time to find out!

What I do

I am Curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I research and organise exhibitions of modern and contemporary art in YSP’s five indoor galleries and across the beautiful, historic landscape. This involves many different things, including working directly with artists to select or commission artworks, overseeing transport and installation, and writing gallery texts and essays. I also design most of the accompanying exhibition catalogues.

How I got my job

I was born and brought up in Halifax, which is not very far from YSP. I left Yorkshire for a few years to study, but when the job came up at YSP I was delighted to return, especially to work at a place I had visited as a child and had always loved. I was still quite young and didn’t have a great deal of experience then, but YSP has always been a great investor in people and I have continued to learn and grow as my role has developed over the years.

What I love about my job

Every artist and every project is different so I am always involved with new people and ideas, which is challenging and exciting. I really enjoy being outdoors, so the fact that YSP has sculptures sited across 500 acres is my perfect combination of art and nature. Also, not many galleries can say they have Highland cattle and a flock of sheep! I have been at YSP for 18 years now and have seen the organisation evolve and flourish, something that I am very proud to have been a part of.

What’s difficult about my job

Large-scale exhibitions can be very complicated to organise, with so many different aspects needing to come together at the same time. For our Ursula von Rydingsvard exhibition a few years ago, we brought nine 40-foot shipping containers of work across the ocean from New York. We then took part of that exhibition to the Venice Biennale, which involved taking enormous wooden sculptures down Venetian canals on small boats. It was a big challenge!

What skills I need

Thinking creatively is essential, but I also need to be organised and be able to solve problems quickly. I have to talk to many different people on a daily basis, from artists and gallerists to visitors, so I have to be able to communicate well and convey my passion for my work to others. I also need writing, design and editing skills for the work I do on publications.

Where should young people start if they want to do the job too?

A good knowledge of art history is invaluable and will provide a grounding that you find yourself referring back to and building on for years to come. However, it is also vital to leave the books behind and go to see exhibitions, look at art and talk to artists. There are now lots more Curatorial and Museums Studies courses than there were when I was studying but I think that, as well as learning the theory behind curating, it is really important to get hands on experience. Being a curator isn’t always as glamorous as people sometimes think, especially at the start of your career!

How my job could change in the future

As curators we always have to respond to the way artists’ work changes. It is hard to predict what course this will take over the coming decades. It will be interesting to see how an increasingly digital world affects the production of publications, but I hope people will still want to buy books to have on their shelves at home.