I have been volunteering at Manchester Art Gallery since March 2015. I work primarily with the exhibitions curators, but depending on the projects can do some work for the collections curators also if the projects connect and they offer to make me a cup of tea. My main reason for volunteering was to begin the process of initiating a career change. I had been a clothing retail manager for 10 years and felt that the road ahead was narrowing or non existent and knew that a return to ‘the arts’ which I had originally studied in was the direction I wanted to head. Over the previous 2-3 years I had also been involved in working on design and film projects as Art Director and developing my own art practice again and project management skills as well as my creative abilities and love for art and creative practice in general.
My roles at the gallery are varied depending on the stage of the exhibition development and which curator I am working with. The work can vary from detailed research into a particular artist or maker, putting together information for meetings with designers, cataloguing information for items within the collection, liaising with artist and their representative gallery to facilitate requirements to writing artist biographies and setting and cutting the labels for the artworks and writing a blog for projects for the gallery website.
The key for me and the reason I applied to the gallery was both the variety of work shown and also established nature of the gallery. I wanted to develop knowledge of how an established institution runs and works, and the roles the curators play within that institution. I started a Masters course at Manchester Metropolitan University in Contemporary Curating in September 2015 and wanted to gain as much experience as possible prior to the course starting but also to run concurrently to the theoretical side of the course.
It’s genuinely difficult to underestimate the amount of information, knowledge, contacts and experience I have gained in the year I have been at the gallery. It has made such a difference to my understanding of my course, but also the real world experience I am gaining is invaluable. There is always some interesting work to be done and just eavesdropping on the conversations the curators have with each other and other departments gives me such an insight into their roles. Seeing the artworks and archive files first hand and close up is fascinating. The generosity of the curators though, their time and trust in me and how inclusive they are with the projects and involvement in meetings and discussions has been great for me.
Favourite work in the collection (so far, that I know about) is Peter C by David Hockney. Though I did just discover that within the collection is a copy of David Bailey’s ‘Box of Pin Ups’ from 1965, and as a fan of sixties art, fashion, photography and rock and roll culture this may knock Hockney off the top spot, especially as he’s in the ‘Box of Pin Ups’ anyway!
Mat Bancroft, Exhibitions volunteer.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer visit our website and fill in the form. We’ll get into touch when the next opportunity comes up.