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.
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!