The National Gallery of Victoria’s entry waterwall is truly magnetic. This captivating glass-and-running-water feature has been vividly etched in the minds of Australians and tourists entering its doors since 1968. And I’m sure you’ll agree, the urge to run a hand across it hasn’t diminished over half a century, no matter your age. Imagine if you got to encounter that gateway, and it’s promise of vast discovery, every day!
Marion Joseph gets to. But not only that, as Associate Director of Media and Public Affairs, she plays a pivotal role in attracting people to visit and expand their minds at this famed institution.
This RMIT Bachelor of Arts (Professional Communication) and Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) graduate has fit an impressive list of roles into her 33 years. While still studying, she sought out next-level internships, including just cold calling the BBC, and subsequently jetting off to London for six-weeks work (serendipitously taken on, thanks, in part, to the stellar reputation of another Aussie already employed by her responder!).
Marion also up-skilled through community newspaper roles, and later penned hard news and a shopping column for Leader Newspapers. She didn’t miss out on a live-abroad experience either, working in Singapore from 2010-2011. Upon returning home to Melbourne, she juggled writing, publicity, and even a retail job too.
An advocate for just picking-up-the-phone or sending-that-email, Marion’s first formal interview actually came in response to an advertised Senior Publicist position at NGV. Since being hired four years ago, Marion has progressed to managing an inspiring team, and to her current role as Associate Director of Media and Public Affairs.
The diehard storyteller dishes on her passion for art, provoking wider introspection, and learning for a living. She also manages to group TDF in the same sentence as The New York Times (expect blanket NGV coverage from now on!!)
The most important word in the get-your-dream-job lexicon is…
There’s a lot to be said for never giving up. If there’s a job you know you want (I had wanted to work for Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue since I was nine years old, and had collected books on fashion from a very young age to improve my knowledge) you must pursue it with single-minded determination. I spent a lot of time reading fashion criticism of my fashion writing heroes and studying their work. I also spent a lot of late nights in Singapore working on think pieces about fashion trends and movements, trying to find the right language and structure for those pieces, and ensuring I researched the subject matter as much as I could.
When I was living in Singapore my roommate asked me, ‘What job would you come home for?’ and I said managing the publicity team at the NGV, as it would combine my passion for creative writing and promoting the world’s best art, fashion and design. I think when you want something you just have to go for it until you eventually get there. And you definitely will get there with a focus on constant learning, honing your craft, being patient, and never giving up.
I landed this job by…
When I was at university I undertook internships at the BBC in London, the Melbourne International Motor Show, The Age, The Melbourne Times newspaper and Royce Communications.
A friend I’d made in a tutorial, with who I’d had great debates, was working at a community newspaper and recommended me for some casual writing jobs. This turned into a full-time contract at the end of university. After a couple of years, I moved to writing hard news at Leader Newspapers (based in Mornington and Northcote). For two years, I covered all kinds of topics, including a shopping column. I learned from some amazing old-school sub-editors – their vocabulary in writing headlines was incredible and their brutal editing taught me to be succinct and clear.
Another friend from university was writing about beauty for Harper’s Bazaar in Singapore and mentioned that a senior fashion features job was coming up. So I arranged to fly to Sydney to have a coffee with the Editor-in-Chief when they were in town. I was so nervous because that was the only job I ever wanted. But I was also super nerdy/obsessed and had spent a lot of time reading about designers, the history of design and engaging in online fashion forums. The Editor-in-Chief saw I had solid background knowledge and was passionate about the role beyond belief!
I ended up getting the position and working in Singapore from 2010-2011. I had always wanted to live abroad and understand a different culture, plus I was given license to think about the zeitgeist of that time and relate those to fashion-focused features.
After a year, I wanted to come home to be closer to my friends and family. I was able to fill a maternity leave cover role at Leader Newspapers, writing lifestyle features on food, fashion and bars. At the same time, I also called Arts Centre Melbourne and did some publicity for them, as well as worked in a knitwear shop.
My Arts Centre Melbourne publicist role later became full-time and I worked there for two years before a friend notified me of an advertised opening for a senior publicist at NGV. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to promote the NGV Collection and the incredible blockbuster exhibitions. There are thousands of incredible stories to tell on a daily basis about the people and the practices behind the contemporary and historic art and design, and that is a veritable gold mine for a diehard storyteller.
The NGV application was the first I’d ever done, and I’d never had a formal interview before!
A typical day for me involves…
… meetings with artists, curators, and exhibition designers to find the stories within a particular exhibition and then communicating these to journalists, editors and producers. Most of the work is underpinned by constantly seeking out the ‘why’ of a story: why this exhibition, why now and why is this work particularly relevant, significant or fascinating?
There can be incredible backstories about how and why a work was painted, how it’s been conserved, as well as the personality of the artist and designer, and how the artwork came to be in the NGV Collection.
I remember telling David Hockney that I loved his iPad drawings of crystal glass teacups (I’m a big collector of teacups), he smiled and told me those came about because painting faceted crystal glass was very challenging, so he would constantly practice perfecting the depiction of crystal glass by drawing these teacups on his iPad! It is the little anecdotes like that, which are so deeply enriching and create lifetime memories! There are always so many stories and nuances behind each individual artwork, practice, and process.
A typical day also involves staging media calls, facilitating interviews between journalists and curators, preparing media kits for launches, creating content pieces and finding new and creative ways to get the message out about all of our stories.
The most rewarding part of my job is…
… learning for a living. My curiosity is satiated on a daily basis, by getting to delve deeply into the NGV’s collection and asking the NGV’s incredible staff about their knowledge of an artwork, art movement or artist.
It is an incredible privilege to have this kind of access into an artist’s/designer’s/curator’s world… to understand their work or a particular premise behind an exhibition, and what drives them.
It’s also deeply rewarding to see these important stories communicated to a wide public, as the work NGV does is so vital to the community. I think people come to the gallery more and more to see the contemporary art and design of our time and to understand the world we live in. So there is deep meaning in communicating these stories because they build connection and understanding of the world and our place in it. The stories behind the art can provoke introspection and shift our perspectives.
And in a changing media landscape, there are limitless opportunities to be creative in the way we communicate these stories via media. We can do a 360 film of the new floor-to-ceiling salon hang in our European 18th and 19th century galleries or we can live stream a media in conversation event with Ai Weiwei.
We have done some rewarding partnerships in recent times including with TDF and The New York Times, which have resulted in some very engaging talks presented at the gallery which delve into questions like ‘Can design make us happy?’ and ‘Can artists be agents of change?’.
I think there’s a desire for many people to ask deeper questions through the prism of art and design; there’s an appetite to understand how art and design can shape or reflect the world we live in and be a catalyst for very contemporary conversations about politics, race, identity, globalisation, and more.
On the other hand, the most challenging aspect is…
There are hundreds of stories behind every artwork, every new display, exhibition design and exhibition, all very worthy of being told.
And sometimes journalists will say ‘we can’t do every story Maz’ [editor’s note: sorry!!] So the challenge is always finding the right placement for a particular narrative at the right time. Ultimately, this is rewarding because eventually, all the stories find their rightful home.
The culture of my workplace is…
The NGV has some of the most talented, hardworking and intelligent staff who I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. They are all deeply passionate in their pursuit of enriching the lives of the public through the displaying some of the world’s best art and design.
My team inspire me on a daily basis. They are very bright, kind and curious people with exceptional work ethics and are all truly creative and engaged thinkers. Just this week, Georgia Logan and Isabella Radevski (who have junior positions in my team) presented their kids PR strategy to the curatorial team. It was so awesome to witness the growth of their ideas – their passion and intelligence blew me out of the water.
I am also always truly supported to think outside the box and be as creative as possible in finding new ways and platforms to communicate narratives.
The best piece of advice I’ve received is…
…“You don’t ask, you don’t get”. When I was a journalist I had some incredible mentors as editors who always encouraged me to grow as a writer and editor by constantly trying new things, writing features on different subject matter and generally widening my scope of reporting. I think the pace of newsrooms and their openness to new ideas has definitely helped me in my current role to constantly ask questions, expand and improve the way we communicate.
I always have huge respect for people who take a punt and just call or email. Make that contact because you never know when something will come up – consider the serendipitous circumstances of me securing an internship with the BBC because the person I contacted has a wonderful colleague hailing from the same country and university as I did, or even Georgia Logan just emailing me randomly. She became an intern, then a casual employee, and is now an invaluable part of our team.
The other piece of advice is to constantly read. I read as much news and as many features across myriad topics. I think this definitely helps with my writing and creative storytelling.
Over the years, NGV has…
… become an incredibly vital space for the community – you can come and experience pure joy or beauty through the art and design in the NGV Collection, understand contemporary life and times through a dynamic program of talks or reflect on the world quietly in our gallery spaces.
It is now a welcoming place for everyone to come and I think Melbournians are rightly very proud of it.
In the next five years, I’ll…
… travel more and see as much of the world’s best art and design as I can! And continue to find new and creative ways to tell stories and collaborate with like-minded people.
Marion Joseph is involved in promoting NGVs collection and blockbuster exhibitions, from The House of Dior to Andy Warhol x Ai Weiwei, and the current Masterworks From Moma: Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, on until October 7th.