When I moved back to Manchester last September to continue my study in MA Arts Management, Policy, and Practice, I had no idea there was a venue called Birth Rites Collection. It was a shame, as I did History of Art for my undergraduate study and had visited arts organisations like the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum many times, but I missed this unique and interesting collection. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work at Birth Rites, and I was lucky enough to be involved with every aspect of it during my placement.
The Birth Rites Collection is the only collection of contemporary artwork dedicated to the subject of childbirth. It was established by the artist and curator Helen Knowles in 2008, and it aims to encourage a wider debate about the politics and practice of childbirth through art, an issue which affects every individual. It currently comprises 65 pieces of photography, sculpture, painting, wallpaper, drawing, new media, documentary and experimental film, which are on permanent display, including two amazing tapestries by Judy Chicago and a huge photographic installation by Ana Casas Broda. The collection is housed in the University of Salford in the School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Care in the Mary Seacole Building. Though my job title is ‘curatorial assistant’, at Birth Rites I was literally Helen’s assistant and was involved in every aspect of the daily routine and the delivery of projects.
When I joined the Birth Rites last November, Helen told me the collection was at a turning point, as she had the idea of moving it — either to find a new venue to house it, or to make it two parts, one in the north and one in the south. Therefore, I started by researching potential venues, contacting related staff, and arrange meetings for Helen with possible arts and cultural institutions. The ‘relocation plan’ ran through the whole period when I worked for Birth Rites, and I realized how significant administrative work is to an art organization. In December 2016 Helen and I held a Christmas Tour for the collection, for which I conducted works of different types, from making publicity online to seeking sponsorship, and to inviting guest speakers as well as arranging the venue. There were frustrating moments, to be honest, when I found how hard it was for a small-scale collection to draw public attention, attract audiences, or acquire sponsorship. Most of the time, I worked independently under Helen’s instruction, which was quite challenging and pressured, but also worth it, and I gained extensive experiences. We were surprised but also happy to find that some of our Christmas Tour visitors had no background in art, instead, they are just mothers, or young females who wanted to know more about childbirth. Helen and I were delighted and proud to see how the collection influenced different people, triggered different conversations and stimulated different interpretations.
Thanks to the Institute for Cultural Practices for giving me the opportunity, and I owe my sincere gratitude to Helen who trusted me and supported me with continuing patience. She has been very kind and generous to offer me much help and guidance when the work was not my speciality. She always tried to give me as many opportunities as she could for me to gain experience and develop through learning different tasks. I also want to take this chance to call upon whoever reads this post to visit our collection in Salford!
The Birth Rites Collection: http://birthritescollection.org.uk