There are other posts on this site devoted to the wonders of The Whitworth Art Gallery, and as much as I would love to take a different approach to describe my work experience here, my encounters with “the gallery in the park” are marked by comfort and feeling at home away from home. Since I felt so at ease wandering the gallery, I was eager to have my work placement here, although part of my motivation was also working at “The Museum of the Year 2015.” After completing my placement here, I understand why it is so highly regarded by students, the community, and other cultural venues.
But, back to me: since my role was aiding the learning engagement team –working specifically with Amy Jones, who is in charge of all the family activities—, I had to develop new activities for the gallery’s Artist Sundays programme. The activities they had in place when I started my placement were developed by contemporary artists and the family engagement team; they included making your playlist of the gallery inspired by artist and musician Susie McMurray and an interview with William Blake where he suggested families draw their dreams.
I was brought on to create similar activities under a new presentation, smaller prompt cards that could potentially be sold as a series in the museum shop, less text, and more artists. Each card is inspired by a work of art in the gallery’s collection –although not necessarily on display—and includes a brief biography and one or two activities.
Some of the work I did was a bit unexpected: for one, I did not imagine museums had to deal with copyrights or that they had to pay for reproducing images of work they own, but they do. Additionally, the estate or the artist can refuse to have an image of the work reproduced, but, fortunately, for the most part, there’s DACS, and artists, estates, and agents are happy to participate in educational projects.
The second most enjoyable part of my work was doing the research on the artists –my undergrad degree was in History of Art—and designing the activities. The first few artists were the easiest, noisy pictures for an Eduardo Paolozzi drawing inspired by musical instruments and loud objects, designing wallpaper inspired by Lucienne Day, coral patterns inspired by a Matisse scarf, etc.
Artist Sundays have a somewhat unique format: whenever you walk into the room it is in (on special occasions the Grand Hall, as above (so chill!), but usually in the Clore Learning Studio, which is cozier), people approach four large open baskets with an assortment of activities, paper bags, and materials. They can help themselves to anything they want and can either make their art there or take it to the gallery.
The best part of my work was seeing children and families enjoy themselves in the gallery, and by giving them the opportunity to take the materials anywhere in the gallery and part, The Whitworth is encouraging families to take over their space, transforming it. Perhaps that is why we, as museum practitioners do what we do: at the heart of our work lies the pleasure and transformative potential of art.