Since beginning my MA in Art Gallery and Museums Studies, I have been lucky enough to have a curatorial placement at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery. Prior to my placement, the majority of my voluntary and work experience was in larger, city museums. Consequently, my CV was missing any experience from smaller, local authority museums and art galleries and I was curious compare the museum practice of larger museum to that of a smaller institution.
Located in east Lancashire, the town of Blackburn experienced rapid economic and population growth due to becoming a textile mill town during the Industrial Revolution. The Museum and Art Gallery was founded in 1874 and to this day holds a collection reflecting Blackburn’s local and industrial history. In addition, the museum has the responsibility of caring for entrepreneur Robert Edward Hart’s collection of medieval religious icons and coins that he bequeathed to the community of Blackburn following his death in 1946. With a total of eight members of both part time and full time staff, the role of the curator at this small yet diverse museum is subsequently an all encompassing role.
The main aim of my placement was to write the interpretation labels for the Victorian art gallery that were to be displayed alongside the artworks. This involved researching the museum’s art collection and archives to write a descriptive label for visitors of all ages to read. However, by being at a small, council led gallery, I was encouraged to undertake other duties that might not have necessarily been available to me if my placement was at a larger institution. From condition checking casts of Hittite sculptures on loan from the British Museum with their archaeology curator, writing for the museum’s online blog, to positioning and hanging paintings on the wall myself, the variety of tasks I have been entrusted with has been incredibly beneficial to my understanding of museum practice and the roles and responsibilities being a curator can involve.
The most memorable of tasks during my placement have been those when my supervisor has trusted me with handling and re-displaying some of the museum’s most valuable, precious and delicate objects independently. This has included redisplaying twelfth and thirteenth century religious manuscripts and 3,000 year old funeral masks from the Egyptology collection.
Although the thought of taking a placement at a well known museum or gallery may sound like an appealing addition to any CV, by taking a placement at a small, council led gallery such as Blackburn, I was provided with the opportunity to take on more roles and responsibilities that may not have been available otherwise. Consequently, my placement with Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery has helped to develop and improve my understanding and practical knowledge of museum practice.