Museum Makers: James Beardsworth-Shaw, the National Gallery

  • 26 March 2019

Head of commercial services James Beardsworth-Shaw talks about his role helping to build support for the gallery, and his interview tips for those looking to work in the sector.

James Beardsworth-Shaw, head of commercial services at the National Gallery

James Beardsworth-Shaw, head of commercial services at the National Gallery

My focus is on generating income, developing audiences and building relationships with both loyal supporters and customers alike. As head of commercial services at the National Gallery, my responsibilities include membership, ticketing and performance marketing.

I knew I didn’t want to make a career out of my fine art practice, so surrounding myself with art seemed like the next best thing. Fortunately for me, I was right. I did a Fine Arts degree at Nottingham Trent University and moved to London almost immediately thereafter, and I have worked and volunteered at art galleries and museums ever since graduating in 2007. Before this, I was head of membership at the V&A for many years. I have also worked at Tate, the Royal Academy, the Barbican and the Hayward Gallery.

I actually went into the process wondering if the National Gallery was the right fit for me. People often forget that you are also interviewing the organisation or business at which you are applying to work.

It's always good to understand the goals of the people interviewing you. I was confident in myself, given my previous experience, that I had the skill set for the job. I also made sure to swot up on the gallery’s strategic objectives – which are usually online.

I always leave the building for a proper lunch break so that I can remain productive throughout the day and keep stress levels at bay. It can sometimes feel like a struggle to take everything in and deliver on my responsibilities. I have only been in post for four months, so my days can vary somewhat while I find my stride. I try to keep certain days of the week for 1-2-1s with my team and key colleagues who I depend on and collaborate with; other days I block out for desk time so I can get things done.

Ultimately, people determine an organisation’s success and make it a fun place to be. In the 12 years that I’ve been working in this sector, I have learned a lot about people – I’d include myself in this. I have still not cracked it completely, but I have learned not to take everything so seriously.

A tool I could not do without? Probably my husband. He is a tool.

I have learned a lot from some really great colleagues. Be ambitious and find your mentors.

I hope that the future holds more great success for the National Gallery. There is potential to build on the gallery’s rich history and do even more great things. I am excited to play my part in making our nation's great collection of paintings mean more to even more people.


Museum Makers highlights the contributions, careers and expertise of museum professionals nationwide. From marketing to retail, front of house to management, our museum makers reveal what goes on behind the scenes of the UK's cultural institutions.