Building a Career in Museums and Conservation
Our SALC Employability Champion, Kacey Stonnell, interviews Amy Stevenson, one of the conservation team currently working to restore and catalogue the archaeological material in the basement of the Samuel Alexander Building.
Kacey Stonnell: When you were trying to ‘get your foot in the door’ how did you build the experience that helped you get into your career?
Amy Stevenson: My undergraduate degree was in Visual Arts (essentially Fine Art), and this helped me become really curious about the world, materials and our relationship to them. I became interested in curating in my second and third years and began organising exhibitions with the work of my fellow students which allowed me to get to grips with the practical skills involved with the curatorial process. At the time I was volunteering at Castlefield Gallery so I was already familiar with all of the work that goes into exhibition programming. Castlefield Gallery have an amazing programme called ‘New Art Spaces’ with temporary spaces located across the North West that artists can utilise until more permanent plans are made for the buildings. I was really lucky that I was able to curate my first exhibition in a 900-metre square city-centre venue called Federation House. This allowed me to experience the whole process of exhibition-making, from liaising with artists to creating marketing material and an exhibition identity – but also the more practical aspects of exhibition making such as setting up sound, lighting and transporting the artworks! This experience allowed me to gain practical experience and an impressive portfolio of images to take to interviews.
KS: What was your first job in heritage industries?
AS: I was very lucky that my first role was Curatorial Assistant at the Hepworth Wakefield. This role was made possible through the Western Jerwood Creative Bursary programme, and after a year spent at the Hepworth in this role I was kept on and then promoted to Assistant Curator.
KS: In your current role, what does a normal day look like?
AS: Well… things aren’t very normal at the moment since I have recently completed a Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at UoM. Things look a little different right now as I’m working on two different projects that have come about through the Masters. I’m spending four days a week working on object conservation and putting together exhibition plans for the display of objects from the Archaeology department at UoM. Today I’m making ‘mock ups’ of how objects might be arranged and ordered in a display case having selected the objects yesterday. One day a week I work at the Whitworth as their Curatorial Assistant for a project called Open House. This involves assisting with an exhibition and working with a group of volunteers to enhance the documentation and digitise their wallpaper collection. I also assist with other outreach activities and coordinate the public contributions to the project which spans photographs, objects and memories which will form part of a publication. The role is very varied! Prior to the MA I worked for three years at the Museum of Science and Industry. Often in museums and heritage you need to be flexible and work is often project to project due to funding models!
I hope this is helpful! Basically volunteering, carving out opportunities for yourself in the areas you want to gain experience and drawing on your networks are key!