To celebrate National Volunteers Week we asked our staff to nominate volunteers who they felt had gone above and beyond in their roles. The difficulty for everyone was selecting just one person to nominate as we have so many wonderful people giving their time as volunteers!
So here to announce the winner is Deputy Director Simon Cane….
I’m Zoe and I volunteer with the curatorial team at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve recently graduated with my MA in museum studies, and I’m using my annual leave to volunteer once a week at BMAG (I otherwise work in an academic library). The museums sector is so incredibly competitive so I’m focussed on doing all I can to ensure I become a curator one day… and that means volunteering!
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) was the obvious choice when I was looking to volunteer. I’d previously worked as a Visitor Services Assistant at Aston Hall and as an intern with the exhibitions team at BMAG, and had loved every second of it. The curatorial team in particular are extremely experienced and incredibly supportive. They have so much knowledge and expertise between them, and they always have time to share what they know. It’s a pleasure to work with them.
Since starting my volunteering in March, I’ve been researching and blogging about the museums’ Ancient Near East collection. I was lucky enough to assist with the Near East Gallery install whilst interning in the summer last year, so it’s been good fun to learn more about the objects I got to handle back then, and to share what I’ve learned by blogging. Back in March Adam (Curator of World Cultures) and I installed a selection of ornately carved Nimrud ivories in the gallery. They are some of the oldest objects in BMAG’s collection and are even more amazing because they may have been cleaned by famous murder mystery writer Agatha Christie. She was in Iraq helping out at the archaeological dig that uncovered them back in the 60’s.
I’ve also been helping to digitise images of the ethnography collection to add to the museum’s collections management system, so that we have a visual record of what’s what in the collection. Images of cannibal forks and Fijian ancestor figures – complete with detachable grass skirts – are amongst my highlights so far. Helping out with this project has been a really valuable experience as it’s given me the opportunity to learn how to use professional scanning equipment and software in a museum context, and to get to grips with collections management systems. So many curatorial and collections based jobs are asking for these skills, so I’m really pleased I’ve had the opportunity to do this.
I hope to continue to volunteer with the curatorial team into the summer, until I run out of annual leave. The team at BMAG try to tailor my volunteering projects to suit me, so that I can build up my skills and gain experience in things I want to do, which is brilliant. Hopefully they’ll have some exciting projects lined up for me over the summer!
Curatorial Team Volunteer
For more information about volunteering or to be added to our volunteer list please visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
Art is something I have always had an immense amount of interest in; from an early age I was reading about artists, visiting galleries and getting involved in every art class I could find. Pursuing courses in art at school, I became more interested in looking at other’s art works rather than creating my own, and thinking about the historical, biographical and social contexts of works. When the time came for me to leave school I stumbled on information about courses of History of Art. This seemed perfect for me, so I decided to take the plunge. Once I had finished my course I moved back to Birmingham and for the first time was at a loss for what to do with my future. I greatly missed the challenge of academic study, and spent a while thinking about my future and what I wanted to achieve. I knew it would have to be something art based, but I wasn’t sure what job it was that I wanted exactly, or even how to embark upon a career in which I had no practical experience. After many unsuccessful job applications, I decided the best course of action was to go back to what I knew I enjoyed the most: visiting art galleries. It was then I saw the vacancy for volunteer positions at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and I sent an application without any real hope that I would be accepted due to my lack of experience. However, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was told I had been successful!
Volunteering has become an essential part of my weekly routine. Being at the gallery twice a week has renewed my interest and passion in art; spending time talking to the public and answering their questions about pieces in the collection pushes me to constantly expand my knowledge. Many questions and opinions that arise in general conversation are things I had not considered myself, and I love being educated by others who are as enthusiastic about the works in the gallery as I am. Volunteering in a gallery like the Staffordshire Hoard often draws in people with specialist knowledge, and it is so inspiring and reassuring to see the passion and sense of pride that local people feel for their art gallery. I really try to pass on any small amount of knowledge I may have so that others might find the same appreciation for the art as I do.
Recently I spent an afternoon at an object handling session with Ancient Egyptian objects. It was a fantastic experience for me to engage with families, and in particular children, in one of my areas of great interest. Using the objects to interact with the public was a really rewarding experience for me, as it helped to draw people in for conversations. The opportunity for us to touch actual artefacts was a real treat, and it really helped to create a strong connection and understanding of the art, especially for children. It was so gratifying to see people really understanding the objects on show, not only on a visual level but by physically exploring the objects to reaffirm their understanding of them, for example, being able to examine a kohl pot with remnants of makeup in it expanded understanding of the object on a deeper level than being told of its use by display information.
Every day volunteering at the gallery is enjoyable, spending time around such beautiful and amazing works of art has led me to develop a deep appreciation for all the works, and it is a real pleasure to speak to all the staff and hear their own experiences of working in the gallery. The building itself is a work of art, and a pleasure to spend time in. I hope to volunteer until a more permanent career path becomes more obvious to me; until then I will continue to enthusiastically drag my friends and family, such as my sister pictured below, to the gallery to experience what amazing things Birmingham is lucky enough to be home to.
For more information about volunteering at Birmingham Museums visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
By Kendall Russell,
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Volunteer