As a prospective university student, you have many academic and pastoral aspects to consider when choosing a University. But in my experience, the environment in which you will study and the things you can get involved with in and around a university are just as important as the prestige of the university itself. There are plenty of career-benefiting schemes and competitions available at the University of Birmingham, including the Global Challenge Award, which art history student Emily Woolley won in 2012 and wrote about here). There are also volunteering and internship opportunities at the Barber Institute and the Research and Cultural Collections (which you can also read about on this blog here, here and here). But, only a 5 minute train journey away from the University of Birmingham campus is a vibrant city that also has much to offer a student looking for work experience in the arts sector. So it may also interest you to read about some of the CV-enhancing opportunities that are available with institutions in the city.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA):
The RBSA is an artist-led charity that supports local artists and society members through exhibitions and educational workshops. Located in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter, the society has close links with the University of Birmingham.
There couldn’t be a more exciting time to start at the RBSA, as the society celebrates its 200 year anniversary of the first exhibition staged by the Birmingham Academy of Arts, the forerunner of the RBSA. At the end of 2013, a celebratory exhibition entitled ‘Our Collection, Our Archive and You‘ was curated by 3rd year Art History student Hang Nguyen and Art History graduate Chloë Lund.
The society also enrols University of Birmingham students onto its Young Curators Project, giving students the opportunity to gain valuable curatorial experience in a professional gallery. Several of my fellow art history students have also worked with the RBSA and you can read a bit about the kinds of things that they got up to curating The Art of Clay and the Glisten exhibitions on this blog.
I have been a volunteer at the RBSA since 2011, working as an Undergraduate Archive Assistant. My role is to respond to the many archive enquiries that the RBSA receives each week, requesting research on various artists. Both the general public and academics request enquiries. At the RBSA, you can gain valuable administration experience, whilst being given the relevant training in MODES (a database used by many archives around the country), writing Wikipedia articles and public speaking.
The Ikon Gallery is Birmingham’s internationally-acclaimed contemporary gallery, situated in Brindleyplace, off Broad Street. The Ikon recruits University of Birmingham students as Student Ambassadors, responsible for spreading the word and encouraging fellow students to visit the gallery. As well as gaining valuable promotional experience, you are also given the responsibility of taking student tour groups around the exhibitions – a great opportunity in an exciting and vibrant modern gallery! The gallery also recruits Student Ambassadors from BCU, so it’s a great opportunity to make new friends outside of the university.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG)
Look out for any working opportunities at the prestigious BMAG. From month-long, and longer, internships to work experience weeks, you are sure to enjoy your experience at this busy gallery. Work can range from invigilating exhibitions to being on restoration teams to working with the curatorial department, which MA art history student Lauren Dudley got to do as part of the Cultural Intern scheme (you can read about that here). I was part of the team that invigilated the Revealed: Government Art Collection in November 2012, where works of art where brought together from worldwide UK embassies and political buildings, including the Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street.
‘We do not make art for the public. We are the public that makes art.‘
Culturally diverse, there is a lot going on in Digbeth, Birmingham’s answer to London’s East End. Eastside Projects is an artist run gallery space that exhibits experimental contemporary art. There are student placements and volunteer work to be found here, including experience in production, distribution and operation. This is a chance for you to gain gallery and business experience in an exciting area of Birmingham. Upcoming exhibitions include a ‘World Tour’ retrospective of Scottish artist Bill Drummond who will be visiting and living in twelve cities between 2014 and 2025…and it all starts and ends in Birmingham!
So if you want to get involved in the curating, marketing, and archives of the art world from the very beginning of your degree, Birmingham is a great place to do it!