What Does Success as a Museum Freelancer Look Like? - Interview VIII with Christina Lister

Christina Lister -  Museum Freelancer & More

Christina is based in Norwich, Norfolk providing marketing, PR and audience development consultancy. She has over 13 years’ in-house, agency and freelance experience across different fields working with museums, heritage sites, festivals and cultural organisations, and is co-founder of the Museum Freelance network.

What are your thoughts on fame in the arts? 

Fame is a double-edged sword – it can help open up the arts to new audiences, and champion and highlight artists and their work, but equally it’s not necessarily a measure of quality, of originality or these days, of longevity.

What is your approach to rejection as a site of success?

It can be easy to take rejection personally, whether it’s a rejection of your ideas or your proposals as part of a new business pitch. But the older I get the more I see it simply in terms of part of the process – it means there’s not a good fit between a potential client and me, or that further work, discussions and development might be required to evolve an idea or project into something that is accepted and meets everyone’s criteria. Ultimately it is a learning experience and it’s worth thinking about what you can learn from any rejection.

I have been reading about ‘learning to fail’ and ‘failing well’ recently and these themes are linked to rejection. Often we are taught at an early age that success equals passing an exam, earning a lot of money, or becoming famous or renowned for what you do, and that anything else equates to failure. But actually, failure could mean a failure to follow your dream, step outside your comfort zone or take a chance. I imagine that everyone will experience some form of rejection or failure at some point in their lives (professionally and/or personally), but it is how you handle it that is important – can you learn anything from it, brush it off and move on?

Any thoughts on income and financial stability and success?

Bringing in ‘enough’ income, having a level of financial stability and a buffer fund as a back-up is a key marker of success as a freelancer. I think this is true for most freelancers (whether it’s the main motivator or not) as bills need paying. With freelancing that is never guaranteed – even if you have big contracts over the short-term, there are never any guarantees that you will find work next year or the year after, even though a track record and client referrals will certainly help. This can be both a source of anxiety and a source of motivation, keeping you on your toes! This can be a negative if you allow the anxiety to consume you or stop you from taking risks, or it can be a positive if you harness this to push forward.


How do you define success in the arts?

I think success is something many people will view differently – it is personal and will depend on your goals. At this stage in my career and with a family, success for me means finding:

  •  interesting, stimulating and rewarding work where I feel I can make a difference
  • being paid fairly and appropriately for this
  • having the flexibility to allow me to combine my work with my family in a balance that I am happy with
  • having the time for some hobbies and pro bono work.


Do you have role models for success and who are they?

As a working mum I am often inspired hearing about how other working parents juggle their work and careers and their family lives, how they prioritise, how they manage their time, how they say no, how they manage any guilt of feeling they could do more. I also enjoy learning from inspiring stories, whether it’s of someone who has overcome adversity, someone who has set up their own business, someone who is championing an important cause or someone who is carving their own niche and doing things their way. They are not necessarily famous or work in the arts, but their passion, integrity, ambition and vision is universal.


Which advice on success would you give your 18-year-old self?

To all 18-year-olds I would say: don’t worry if you feel you haven’t got all the answers, don’t know which direction you want to take or what your purpose is. Embrace all opportunities that come your way but don’t wait for them to land in your lap – create opportunities for yourself. Get involved, contribute, listen, learn and enjoy as much as you can.

Find more about Christina's work on her website.

Read more personal insights on success from art professionals