In January 2015 I began my placement with the Whitworth Art Gallery in the Adult Engagement department. This was just a month before the grand re-opening of the gallery, after an 18-month renovation. This was a unique time to start working with an organisation; the re-opening brought challenges and exceptional circumstances to my placement. My priorities often shifted as new challenges arose, and I worked alongside many departments in the gallery.
My main responsibility focused on the Whitworth’s Thursday Lates programming, a new initiative launched with the re-opening. While I came to my placement with previous museum Visitor Services management experience, I had never worked with a volunteer programme. This presented me with new challenges to navigate, as motivating unpaid staff has nuanced dynamics not present with paid staff. In addition to working closely with my supervisor, Ed Watts, Head of Adult Engagement, I also frequently met with Fiona Cariss, the Volunteer Coordinator. From Fiona, I learned that a key component to a successful volunteer programme is identifying each individual’s motivation and interests, and pairing them with corresponding responsibilities. For example, there were several student volunteers seeking to gain gallery experience, who also were particularly interested in performance art. They were always scheduled for Thursday night events that included performances. This resulted in a driven, enthusiastic team with affection for the Whitworth.
Another benefit of my placement was getting to meet and work closely with several other departments in addition to Adult Engagement and the Volunteer programme. The success of the Thursday night events also relied on the Visitor Team, House Services, and Conservation all working together. Despite having complex schedules and high volume of attendees, the efforts of these departments meant the events went very smoothly. As well, I began working with the Visitor Team in a paid capacity, about three weeks into my placement, and continue to do so.
My placement gave me a brilliant introduction to the Whitworth, a leading gallery in Manchester, during a decisive and thrilling time. While I came to my placement with previous gallery experience, I was delighted have the opportunity to immerse myself in this innovative British gallery, build new relationships, and explore the benefits and complications of volunteer programmes. I started my placement with no prior knowledge of volunteer management, and feel that the Whitworth’s programme has given me the opportunity perform an in-depth analysis of how one operates.