Tag Archives: internships

Can I do it all over again, please? Stephanie O’Neill-Winbow reflects on her time as the Barber’s Learning and Access intern…

Four years ago, having moved from Muscat, Oman, to Birmingham to study History of Art, I was just a little bit lost. Like most students starting university, I was moving away from home to a place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was; you suddenly have to become completely independent, make new friends, take care of yourself and try to cover up your ridiculously low alcohol tolerance, all the while working towards a degree so that, in three years’ time, you hopefully know a little bit more than you knew before! It’s fun, very fun! However, when your mind turns to work experience (so important for finding a job these days) it can often become clear that not everyone is in the same boat: some people have had gap years in which they gained experience or their parents know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get them a job over the summer. I had nothing like this. In Oman you couldn’t work anywhere unless you had a work permit (generally not given to 17 year olds), my parents hadn’t lived in Europe for about thirty years, and I went to university straight out of High School. So I decided to gain my work experience right on my door step – at the Barber Institute.

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber's portrait

Stephanie and colleagues beneath Lady Barber’s portrait

In the second term of my first year, after I had settled in a bit, I started to volunteer. I spent many mornings and afternoons at the welcome desk, greeting and providing information to the patrons; I also spent a couple of afternoons in the galleries, talking to people about the paintings, and asking the children to stop running around and not to throw themselves at the paintings. Then when the current volunteering scheme at the Barber was introduced, I began volunteering in the Learning and Access department. Immediately it became evident that this was what I preferred: I was working with children during workshops, helping out on tours, assisting at seasonal ‘fairs’ and generally setting up and cleaning up from activities. I volunteered so much that the members of the department knew me – I was even asked to pose (fully clothed and paid!) for a portrait sculpture class and to represent the Barber at Careers fairs. Although as a History of Art student I was spending a lot of time in the Barber, there is so much that I wouldn’t have known about it if I had only spent my time in its library or seminar rooms. There is so much going on in the Barber Institute besides it being the home of the University of Birmingham’s History of Art and Music departments. It was especially enlightening to learn about the different departments that make a working gallery successful: it’s not as simple as hanging some paintings on the wall and waiting for the visitors and money to roll in.

After two and half years of regular volunteering, I was coming to the end of my degree and becoming slightly concerned about what to do next. The opportunity to apply for a paid Learning and Access internship at the Barber came up and I knew that I wanted it! In fact, I had known about the internship during my degree and the thought of applying had been an added incentive to volunteer; thankfully it paid off! After I graduated in June 2012, I was offered the 5 month internship to start in February 2013. I was nervous starting here since it felt strange: for the previous three years I had gone to the Barber for lectures and seminars or to spend hours poring over books in the library. Suddenly it was completely different. I had a desk, a computer, and an office, and I was actually responsible for aspects of how of the gallery as a business was run, rather than a place to study! Initially the internship involved lot of admin, answering phone calls, making bookings and passing things onto members of the department who actually knew what was going on. However after about 2 months I felt completely at home. Alex with whom I mainly work has been unbelievably patient with me, answering every little question I come up with and giving me every opportunity to challenge myself and learn more. In fact all the staff behind the scenes at the Barber have been a delight to work with. From the security guards who help me move big furniture to set up for workshops, to the lovely ladies in HR who deal with the payroll, and the marketing and collections team (who also have interns) who are so easy and helpful to work alongside, it has been a real pleasure. Instead of ‘just’ an intern, I feel like a part of the team. It has also been incredible to be specifically trained to become part of a professional team. As I write this I have just under 4 weeks left of my internship, and the interviews for the next ‘lot’ of interns are taking place very shortly. I find that I’m passing the phone over less and less to somebody else, and if anything it’s actually very satisfying and enjoyable being a point of contact.

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

The About Face Family Guide that Stephanie helped put together

One of my tasks at the beginning of my internship was to put together the initial draft of the Family Guide for our new exhibition About Face: the guide is now finished and the exhibition is open and all has turned out very well! I’m responsible for the Learning Room, and the activities that are placed there for children when they visit the galleries. As I’ve grown into the role, I now help out a lot more with gallery visits and workshops, and my confidence had soared; I genuinely feel beneficial to the department and part of the team. Last week the Barber Institute’s staff were invited to the National Gallery’s private view for the opening of the exhibition Birth of a Collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Unbelievably, I was invited as well! And I must say, I didn’t think that at the start of my career I would be attending a private view at the National Gallery in the company of so many important and influential people in the art world. This internship has given me opportunities and experience that I genuinely was not expecting and for which I will be forever grateful.

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

Stephanie (third from left) and other Barber staff at the private view of Birth of a Collection at the National Gallery in London

It is rare to find an internship in a respected, impressive and successful gallery that is not only long enough to allow you to learn something new and to challenge yourself, but also where you’re part of a team in which you have real responsibility – and one which is paid!  My internship here has given me incredible experience that I know will hugely benefit me in the future. Working in the Learning and Access department has made me sure that I want to continue in this direction. I truly feel that I owe the Barber Institute so much: I not only studied for my degree here, but I gained so much relevant experience here through volunteering, all of which led to the most amazing opportunity of actually working here. I’m now looking into doing a MA in a relevant field once I finish here in June, but really, I’d quite like to be the intern all over again…!

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Stephanie at the tea for departing interns

Read about Sophie Rycroft’s experience as an intern in the curating department here. The next round of Barber interns will be recruited in May 2014.

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Alumnus Lucy Wheeler tells us about her post-university experience!

In this brief summary of my two years since graduation, I hope I can provide an overview of my experiences of working in museums and galleries to date.

After graduating from Art History and spending six months firstly teaching in Cambodia and then travelling in Asia, I returned to Birmingham to take up placements at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and at Research and Cultural Collections (RCC). This was a great way to gain experience working with 2 very different collections; the Barber, a range of sculptures, paintings and works on paper from Old Masters to Impressionists – and RCC – an idiosyncratic University collection ranging from physics objects, foetal models to impressive modern art by British artists Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi. At the Barber I was fortunate enough to curate my own exhibition about leisure in Victorian Britain, presenting works on paper from the satirical paper Punch that had never been shown in the gallery before, examples that demonstrated a humorous side to collecting at the Barber. As well as gaining in depth knowledge of the print culture and social implications of sport in 19th century England, I learnt basic paper conservation techniques to spot when a piece of work needed a bit of t.l.c.

At RCC, my main role was to manage a heritage project about University House – the first all-girls hall of residence (the building is now part of the Business School). I got to curate and interpret a period room in the Business School, create a heritage leaflet and organise a reunion for the Alumni of University House. I also got to spend time exploring objects from the University Archive linked to University House such as a war log book and photographs from tennis parties in the 30’s. As well as teaching me the logistics of how to organise a large scale event, this project enthused my understanding of Heritage and the importance of preserving artefacts from the past. I was touched by the letters I received from University House Alumni full of memories of their time at the University and was fascinated by the stories the heritage objects in our collection motivated by participants at the event.

After completing my placements in Birmingham, I embarked for London to start an internship at the Wallace Collection in the education department. Working to coordinate and deliver a number of workshops for school, community and access groups, I saw how greater access to diverse and innovative education projects could benefit confidence and development and realised my commitment to working within programming in a gallery environment. I also learnt how a successful education department needed the anchor of strong administration and organisation and took time to get to grips with data entry, spread sheets and databases.

I then was lucky enough to get funding to study for an MA in Art History at University College London. I look back on my MA as an amazing experience – the rigorous programme introduced for me new ways of understanding and approaching Early Modern visual culture using contemporary theory and I gained a good knowledge of South African contemporary practice. I made some great friends on the course and also volunteered at UCL Art Museum where I gained experience of updating museum databases and digitalising the collection online. Whilst writing my MA dissertation in the summer I took a month out to work with the BBC interning in the arts documentary department, writing pitches and treatments for BBC Four art documentaries and running on location shoots for shows including Imagine and The Review Show.

After graduating from UCL I started working at Jerwood Visual Arts, a contemporary gallery in South London which is a key initiative of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Highlights from this role include installing the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize and working with Marcus Coates and Grizedale Arts for the exhibition ‘Now I Gotta Reason’. I learnt so much at JVA, from scheduling and delivering artist workshops, managing a team of volunteers and marketing exhibitions through social media platforms.

©Hydar Dewachi

©Hydar Dewachi

I am currently working on a Freelance basis, creating education workshops and lectures for schools and museums. If I could offer any words of advice from my experience so far for those wanting to pursue a career in a gallery it would be: gain experience as soon as possible – from a department and museum that appeals to you; be prepared to undertake small, repetitive tasks-mail outs and room set ups are just as important as bigger tasks; PERSEVERE– the arts are overcrowded with lots of people wanting to work in galleries-but be patient and an opening will come!

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