Name: Michael Simpson

Job title: Director of Visual Arts at The Lowry

My position in a nutshell… My job is to look after the visual arts. I look after our collection of paintings by the artist LS Lowry. LS Lowry was an artist born in the Victorian age, particularly well known for his paintings of the industrial scene. But also, in the 50s & 60s, about his personal feelings of loneliness and isolation. I also put together a rolling programme of exhibitions – normally contemporary art exhibitions.  

How I got the job… I was going to be librarian when I younger. I love books and love being in libraries. I needed two E grades to go to university to become a librarian, but I got one E and two Fs. I was unemployed and the government brought in a scheme called Youthful Opportunity Programmes, where they would place you in a place of work and you would have to work 5 days a week, 9am -5pm.

I was placed into a museum and art gallery. I had never been interested in art, but in a week, I had fallen in love with all the paintings and sculptures around me – so many things to look at, to talk about. I had a fantastic mentor, who nurtured me through the year and guided and steered me into going back to class and studying my A levels again and this time I got the grades and went on to study History of Art at the University of East Anglia. I then went on to a museum studies course at the University of Manchester and worked with a number of galleries, which led me to The Lowry.

My typical day… There is no typical day, that’s the great thing about working in the creative sector. I’m either doing things that need doing now, such as putting things in galleries or spending time nurturing artists, or having conversations about future exhibitions, thinking about how I can engage as many people as possible and how to do things differently.

The worst part of my job… I’m not very good at thinking strategically, I’m more impulsive and creative, but the great thing is that I am surrounded by people that are good at the strategic side, who support me.  

The best part of my job… Working with artists, working with art and seeing people in the galleries engaging with it. You want as many people as possible, a diverse range of people looking at what you have done with an artist.

Key skills/attributes needed for anyone wanting to curate art exhibitions… Having the skills to develop relationships with artists and with audiences, and project management skills are all really important. But you also need to have a broad range of creative ideas and build up your knowledge and experience of art form. Even if you are just interested in contemporary art, still look at renaissance painting, Victorian, Georgian painting – and read poetry, books, go to theatres, listen to podcasts, build up as much as you possibly can. Get different voices, perspectives and different ideas and it will all come together.

Advice for someone looking to go into a similar role… Be persistent, I have had loads of knock backs in my life and career. I was just persistent and kept at it. You’ll have knock backs, particularly in the early years as you are trying to establish yourself, but keep getting up in the morning and keep doing it.