By Nicole Mullen, Art Fund Student Opportunities placement and Exhibition and Engagement Assistant. Nicole Mullan is a photographer, her practice is largely based around lived experiences and her relationship to place, migration and theories of identity.
Graduating is usually a pleasant time for most students, completing years of hard graft typically brings a sense of accomplishment and the anticipation of new prospects as you are ready to start a career in your chosen field however, my experience in 2021 was very different.
Leaving Manchester School of Art with a degree in Photography, two years homeworking during the pandemic impacted my confidence. Due to the practical experience I had missed out on during this time, applying for work within the creative industries felt daunting. To my surprise, through Art Fund, there was an opening for a 3-month paid placement as an Exhibition and Engagement Assistant at the Scottish Maritime Museum.
During the placement I was happy to gain hands on experience, working on a variety of different projects which were catered towards my practice.
SIXTEEN by Craig East Exhibition Install
I assisted Bill from Street Level Photoworks in the installation of the gallery’s photographic exhibition SIXTEEN by Craig Easton. The exhibition consisted of an exhibition area within the Linthouse building and also a display in the windows of the Scottish Maritime Museum Boatshop.
We arranged the photographs in the window, selecting those which would visually complement each other then, installed the accompanying labels. In the Linthouse on the white display walls we did the same, thinking about the flow of exhibition. It was fantastic gaining this experience working with Bill and through tackling the various install challenges that arise with every space. By working with the different materials on this project, I was able to confidently install my own exhibition which I recently exhibited at The Yard in Manchester using Foamex panels and double-sided tape to hang.
Curatition and Events for Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani
Another project I was involved in during my time was the preparation and installation of exhibition Glass Ships in Bottles by Ayako Tani. I absolutely loved working on this, liaising with the other museum staff about the opening events and collaborating with Dr Tani and the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers, learning about the inspiration behind their work and practice.
The other Art Fund students and I were trained in object handling, so we could work with Dr Tani’s collection of vintage ships in glass bottles with the correct care and processes. I also learnt about the preservation of objects when on display, specifically temperature-controlled rooms with delicate objects such as wooden objects and works on paper.
I learned so much about the planning and curation of an exhibition, the importance an artist’s vision has on the work, and how the flow of the space should match that of the narrative you are building for the visitor. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was actively involved in the installation and placement of objects in the exhibition. It was exciting seeing it all come to life!
It was interesting to learn about the different access needs considered when designing an exhibition. For example, the height of objects or text, allowing enough space for wheelchair users and making sure that safety precautions are taken into account for all visitors, especially children.
Alongside this I also helped facilitate different engagement activities which coincided with the exhibition including a school learning event. At this event the British Society of Scientific Glassblowers gave demonstrations and taught people about the materiality of glass and its capabilities in both an artistic sense and scientifically.
Reflecting on my time in Scotland, it has been so informative and influential on my future career prospects as a curator and creative facilitator. The experience has generated a desire to work within curation and heritage preservation with particular reference to photography and collections. I feel confident applying for roles in the heritage sector as I have gained so much from this experience. I cannot thank the staff enough for making me feel so welcome and teaching me the skills I needed to move forward after a tumultuous year at university. I would highly recommend students apply for the Art Fund Student Opportunity placements and similar initiatives as this opportunity has been nothing but positive.
Art Fund Student Opportunities harness the talent of university students to help realise projects at museums and galleries. These paid placements give students hands on experience and training.