Coming to Manchester to study a Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies was an interesting choice considering my background is in Interactive Media Design, but museums have always been my favourite places to go and I knew it would be possible to combine my two favourite things! Anything new, digital and interactive excites me, so when I was presented with the (rather extensive) list of placement opportunities, my eyes naturally scanned for the word ‘digital’.
Manchester Histories were offering a placement for the chance to get involved in a project that would be for the Manchester Histories Festival. Manchester Histories is a charity-based organisation that works with the local communities to deliver projects, events and activities to celebrate and uncover hidden histories for the public to learn and enjoy. The festival is a bi-annual event that the charity runs as a celebration of all the work that is achieved and the smaller groups that offer events based in the cultural sector. The project wanted a small group of students to work together to create a digital game that would ultimately be played by the public at the end of the placement. What appealed to me most about this placement was it offered me the chance to combine my knowledge of digital applications with the cultural sector into a unanimous project, which is something I hadn’t had the chance to explore. The project would also be a great addition to my portfolio, considering the more practical side of things, and the chance to develop something that would be tested by the public was a real plus. The digital game would be a chance for the festival to explore its online audiences, and to entice younger and more diverse audiences to get involved with history in new and exciting ways.
Working with the lovely Jess and Cat, our idea for the game quickly stemmed from the idea that essentially we wanted a visually enticing platform to appeal to contemporary audiences through social media. We designed the game SnapShot where players would submit photographs of historic sites or objects via Twitter or Instagram, along with a historic fact or story to gain points. To add another dimension to the gameplay we chose to incorporate a physical element that would not only bring the digital game back into the real world, but it would encourage the photographs to be taken in real time, and encourage the player to go out and about to literally discover hidden histories. After many discussions, this element change from a character, to a paper flag, to finally a frame, which would allow the player to ‘frame’ history.
Our individual roles became more established once the brief had been fully developed, and we moved to work on the content. With my background in design, I became the visualiser of the group and translated our ideas and concepts visually to help convey our ideas our placement supervisor (who is also the Chief Executive of MH). After several lumps and bumps along the way, our game looked and felt quite different from our initial idea. I will sidestep the details, but it has been a tremendous learning curve to work with several third parties to create a final product in time for the festival. In particular, for me, I feel that I have grown more confident in my abilities to communicate with others from different professions and that my social media communication and marketing skills have improved, which I know will help me greatly when it comes to future work and projects.
I will happily admit to being a social media addict and I have spent many years of my life surrounded by tech geeks that everything in the digital world excites me. It was this obsession that drew me towards applying for a placement with the charity organisation, Manchester Histories, to develop a digital game for their bi-annual festival.
My previous work history as a copywriter and digital content developer allowed me to enter this placement with confidence in my ability to deliver a successful product. It also provided me with the prior knowledge that nothing in the arts and culture world goes to plan and that it would be a battle of will power, creativity and ‘last minute changes’. However, I was working with fellow students, Lorna Hedley and Cat Bogel, and together we formed a super team of brains, creativity and word power. Hindsight suggests we should have come up with a funky company name as we worked almost as a third party company delivering our product for Manchester Histories. We were supported and directed by Claire Turner, CEO of Manchester Histories, who somehow manages to deliver a ten-day festival essentially on her own. She gave us creative reign on how the digital game worked and with a £0 budget we got to work. The brief was to create a game that engaged with a new audience – a younger demographic who would not normally be interested in a histories focused festival – and encourage them to explore Greater Manchester.
And so we created SnapShot – a Twitter-based photography game where participants photographed historic places/people/objects in Greater Manchester and uploaded the photos to Twitter, including an interesting fact and relevant hashtags. Points were awarded for the photographs, facts and use of our very cool SnapShot photo frame. The physical photo frame had two purposes – it served as a unique marketing tool as well providing a way to cross the boundary between physical and digital spaces.
As expected, we faced many challenges throughout the project that altered the development of the idea and the resulting product. SnapShot V1.0 had transformed into SnapShot V9.2 by the time we launched it, five minutes before the Manchester Histories Festival (MHF) launch party. Despite this, over the ten days of the festival we gained over 200 Twitter followers, nine active participants and 468 photograph entries. The final weekend involved a heated battle between the top three players who scoured Manchester hunting down historical facts and interesting stories. I don’t think the Manchester Cathedral and the various mills of Ancoats have ever been photographed so prolifically.
A highlight of the placement was the MHF Celebration Day, held on the second last day of the festival. Lorna, Cat and I exhibited a photographic map of Manchester with entries from the game, plus we wandered through the Town Hall speaking to people and taking their photographs through an enlarged version of our SnapShot frame. The interest level and active engagement of people was high and we even met the Mayor and Maxine Peake! Some of the SnapShot participants visited us at the Town Hall and provided us with positive feedback saying how much they learnt about Greater Manchester as they explored their city.
For me, this placement was a challenging and often frustrating experience, however, thanks to some positive thought and Claire Turner’s excellent advice of, ‘It is better to work to deliver something than to give up trying’ and we finally created a product that I was proud to launch.
I have grown a huge appreciation for small charity organisations that produce events such as MHF and I am honoured to have worked with some truly dedicated people whose commitment to their work is inspirational. I hope the photographs taken by the SnapShot participants will provide a building block for future Manchester Histories projects and that SnapShot will go down in hashtag history. #MHF2016 @MHFSnapShot
The main reason I added the World Museum to my list of placement choices was due to the fact that on our school trip there in first semester I was very impressed with the way they displayed the World Cultures Gallery, plus through previous volunteering I had already had some experience of documentation. Despite this, it wasn’t my first choice and I was therefore slightly apprehensive about starting the 20 days.
However, all apprehensions were ultimately swept aside. My main role was to help document the African collection as part of the project to eventually transfer all the museum records onto the Mimsy XG collections database. Working every Wednesday in the museum store with the curator of the African collection, I helped to systematically go through the metal and ceramic objects, measuring and photographing each one that wasn’t already online. On Thursdays I then worked in the Ethnology office in the World Museum to create records for the objects we had recorded the previous days. This formed the majority of my placement and from this I gained valuable skills such as learning how to use Mimsy and the image database, how best to take photographs of objects and the general level of concentration and accuracy that are vital to documentation. Despite the apprehensions about the placement in general being gone they were quickly replaced when having to handle and measure large ceramics from the 1900s that did not stand up un-aided!
When creating the records for the objects I mainly focussed on the objects given to the museum by two of the major donors to the collection: Olive Macleod who donated 416 ethnography items in 1924 and Jack Leggett who provided 200 ceramics among other items in 1982 and 1983. I particularly enjoyed this, as to add information to the records it was necessary to look through the original stockbooks and acquisition lists and collate the information found. Quite often there were discrepancies and I would have to use various sources of information to do some problem solving. There were also various other tasks that the curator had to do which I was involved in, such as measuring and photographing a large piece of mounted barkcloth for a possible loan (a job that warranted a well-earned cup of tea as it ended up being ginormous!), researching information on African bracelets for a visiting researcher and packing up some objects the other placement students needed for their online exhibition.
I feel I have gained a valuable experience in terms of the highly transferable skills I have learned, such as using Mimsy, and also the general pieces of information I picked up along the way about West and Central Africa. I am also lucky to have had the experience of the inner-workings of a national museums service and having a fairly important role within that, even attending a museum-wide curatorial staff meeting. I feel very pleased to have helped make a very small dent in digitally documenting the 11,414 African objects, despite the fact there are still around 7,000 to go!! It is quite special to know that I have created records for objects on Mimsy that will be there for as long as the database is – even if I occasionally entered the wrong accession number and had to get it changed by the museum chiefs of Mimsy! Accuracy certainly is key! Overall I ended up enjoying my placement much more than I had anticipated and I have a lot to take away from it both professionally and personally. However, I won’t miss the Arctic temperatures of the store or the train through in the morning very much!
My decision to sign up for the placement opportunity at the Central Library stems from my personal ambition to better understand Manchester and its’ vibrant past. Manchester is culturally rich in terms of its population, education and exciting heritage. A closer at look into one of its’ cultural landmarks was too good of an opportunity to miss.
The Archives+ project is a new development following the recent renovation of the Central Library. It aims to connect the populous with exciting periods of history that are integral to the development of the city we know today. The digital exhibits provide the public with a vast range of archive and heritage materials. These are easily accessible and are arranged in culturally specific sections. I worked on an exhibit for the Radical Thinking section. This was perhaps my personal favourite as it celebrates individuals and societies for their struggles and endeavours that have influenced politics, community and everyday life for the better. This particular exhibition creates a sense of civic identity and pride for its’ campaigning heritage.
This experience has enabled me to acquire a number of transferable and practice specific skills. During my time at the Central Library I was able to work closely with the archives collection and digitising materials. I felt valued as a visitor to the organisation as my work would be included in a lasting display. I was given the responsibility of deciding how a particular aspect of Manchester’s heritage would be represented and potentially remembered by members of the public, which was extremely exciting!
My time at the Central Library has inspired me to research further into Manchester’s past, I will definitely be continuing my visits to the Central Library to keep up to date with new exhibits and developments to the project. I would highly recommend this placement to prospective students and volunteers. It is an organisation that is constantly developing and creating new ways in which the public can access their heritage or the heritage of the City in general. In other cases I believe that a visit to the organisation and look around both the exhibit and its architecture is highly worthwhile. The deliberate contrast of old and new is arguably a homage to the City’s prosperous past and continuous re-generation plans and campaigns that have shaped its’ future. Archives+ is at the heart of the building and enables you to see Manchester’s development through personal testimony, photographs, cultural and community development and much more. It is a project that advocates the importance of heritage conservation in conjunction with a drive to renovate and improve culture within the City.
During my placement at SALVE International, I was running a social media campaign “Inequality Question”, aiming to raise awareness about all kinds of inequalities. As part of that our team at SALVE International took The Challenge Week, a week when we all acted a little bit unusual. And what was it all about?
I and my colleagues took different activities to help people see some of the world’s inequalities from a different perspective and inspire them to fund raise for SALVE in the future. The challenges varied across the team. One of us lost her identity and pretended to be somebody else, my other colleague had only one pound per day to eat, and one of us had to walk several miles any time she wanted water. My week aimed to highlight gender inequalities as for five days I handed over the power and control over my decisions and life to my five male friends. Each of them was making every single decision for me during one day. I have to say it was not always easy. Cold morning showers, intensive work-out class, high-heels in a down pour, or a vegan lunch were only a few highlights of the week. One of my tasks was also to sit in a café, watch people around and think about their life trajectories and pathways. It was an interesting moment as I have never done anything similar. People do not do it. And I think it reflects a lot about our society. Maybe we should learn to be more open minded and interested in lives of others, regardless if these are our neighbours, children on the streets in Uganda or refugees. The task helped me to realize that our ignorance, lack of interest and knowledge about different challenges of people´s lives are crucial factors generating inequalities on both local and global level.
All these activities made me also think about freedom, dependence and disempowerment that many women experience in this world. What I missed the most during the week was my freedom – freedom to rely on myself and be independent. I realized that having to ask about every single step you take makes you question your own capabilities after some time. In the long term it can result in the loss of your confidence, which seems to generate a vicious cycle: when a woman lives in an unequal society where the culture or social norms dictate her to be dependent on her male partner, it leads to her doubting herself and losing her confidence. In the long run this generates even more dependency on others, thus enforcing these norms creating gender inequality. Therefore, I believe that if we aim to limit gender inequalities in the world we need to indicate and challenge those existing social norms which dictate women to be dependent.
It was Tony Benn who said ‘An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern’ and this is precisely why I was thrilled to have taken up a placement working for the People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library. These institutions stand precisely for an ‘educated nation’ and stand for a ‘harder to govern’ nation. For all my sins, I was a Politics and Modern History Student at the University of Manchester, now a History student studying for an MA at the same University. Once more the lure of engaging in the world of political history became too tempting to ignore.
My work at the People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library researching the extension of suffrage over the course of 150 years, beginning with the Peterloo Massacre and ending with the voting age being lowered to the age of 18, in 1969. In particular, I was working on the final part of the project, namely the extension of the franchise to 18 year olds. I was tasked with researching The Representation of the People Act (1969), who was behind it? How much support was there for it? Why was it introduced? And what were the consequences of implementing this act? Furthermore, I was asked to compare it with the current debates surrounding the lowering of the franchise again to 16 years old, in preparation for the up coming witness seminar.
Working on this particular project, however, was not unchallenging. Firstly, it became increasingly clear when reading the different sources relating to The Representation of the People Act and the 1970 election that it would be difficult to display this particular topic for an audience. Most of the evidence I could find relating to the act was hidden within larger documents and books, which are not necessarily pleasing to the eye or are an interesting means of depicting this concept. Furthermore, as I continued to work on the project it became clearer that the conclusions I was reaching may have not been compatible with the practices of the People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library. For instance, there weren’t a lot of pressure groups that were pushing to lower the voting age and the agenda in particular was implemented from the government. This finding is in contrast to the narratives that these institutions particularly favour of. As a consequence, I learnt a great deal about how museums and libraries operate and the challenges these organisations face.
From a personal perspective, I feel that this placement has been a challenge as well. At the start of the process, it felt like I was being pushed into the deep end and told to swim because I was not used to having less support. But this lack of support is something I would expect from the institutions I worked at, because of the limited resources they have. Furthermore, I felt that this has made me more prepared for a career because it had taught me more about how to manage with the resources I have available to me and because it has taught me to have more faith in my abilities. To me this experience has provided me with a set of skills that will be invaluable for my future career path. Undoubtedly, I will have made some mistakes over my time, but as Tony Benn once said ‘Making mistakes is how you learn.’
Before starting my placement, I had never visited the Waterside Art Centre and I knew very little about the place. What attracted me to choose its placement opportunity was the project rather than the institution. I was very intrigued by the idea of assisting an exhibition from its planning phase to its realisation. What’s more, the fact that the project was an open exhibition excited me as that meant I would get to collaborate with many artists working in different fields, from visual art to craft and design. Also, the idea of not knowing what kind of artworks I would be dealing with until the very end of the project was very interesting because it subverted the standard exhibition making processes which I have learnt in class.
It seemed to me extremely appropriate to combine practice with theory through the choice of a work placement. During the period in which I collaborated on the Open 2016 at the Waterside, as part of my MA in Art Gallery and Museum studies I took the course ‘Business Strategies for the Arts’, which taught me the strategies of project planning in the art sector. Therefore, the placement I chose served to better, and in practice understand, the theories I was learning in class.
The objective of my placement was to develop managerial skills in relation to artistic projects. In fact, I was assigned the role of project assistant, which meant supervising – together with the project manager – every aspect of the Open exhibition 2016, from publicising the event to engaging with a targeted audience, refining procedures and conditions for audience participation, finding sponsors, and finally curating and installing the show. The possibility to assist with such a variety of tasks helped me understand in practical terms how a decision for one aspect of the project can be felt negatively or positively on all other parts. This has taught me the importance of pondering decisions and having a contingency plan in place prior to any move you make, especially when counting on audience participation for the success of an exhibition.
I can definitely say that I am really glad I chose to collaborate with the small team of the Waterside. Besides guiding me through a professional development, they have been extremely supportive and helpful whenever I could not hold my own curiosity down. The exhibition we managed to set up together reinforced my desire to work within contemporary art and gave me a solid base to believe audience development planning is a path I would like to pursue in my future career in this sector.