My volunteering at the Manchester Art Gallery

After a career break (I used to be an accountant), I decided to retrain and work in the Arts and Education. I thought, what a better way to get active again than volunteering in a great gallery such as the Manchester Art Gallery!

I have been doing this for nearly 2 years now, complemented with other volunteering placements with the Trafford Hospital and Stockport Hospital – mostly providing creative workshops for the users and helping them on their path to recovery – and the Manchester Museum.

The Arts always held a place in my heart so it has been a very enjoyable experience being part of MAG community. I get to spend quality time browsing great art at a top art gallery, working alongside brilliant artists Michiko Fuji and Jessica Wild and having a lovely time with the young artists in-the-making that come to the Mini Art Club that Michiko set up.

We get to introduce the children and their carers to the current exhibitions and/or the fantastic clore room – set up by Jessica – with all its interactive objects and features before going down to the studio where the cutest artists can experiment with textures and creative materials all in a safe and stimulating environment, to the amazed gaze of their carers.

Personally, I love how such workshops can engage the public and families to come together and learn together about art while enjoying themselves having a nice time as a family, doing activities that appeal to the imagination, creativity and which make art more accessible and familiar to them.

For me, it is rewarding to collaborate with artist Mishiko as I find her work delighting, very varied and inspiring. She uses space, material as well as the elements and senses to engage her very young audience, all this while being also very conscious of the environment and how to best use resources. I am myself aspiring to run my own art classes for an audience of people of various ability, age and background. Volunteering paired with my current part time studies in the Arts is a great opportunity to achieve just that I hope!

Ryan Gander – Make Every Show Like It’s Your Last – Manchester Art Gallery – 3 July – 14 September 2014

Very early on came one of the most challenging time of volunteering at Manchester Art Gallery for me was when the Mini Art Club linked in with the exhibition by Ryan Gander, Make Every Show Like It’s Your Last in the summer 2014.

As you know Gander is a wheel chair user and according to the interview I once read it is the artist’s deliberate intention that his art work is easily visible and accessible to the viewer in a sitting position. For little people such as the ones that come to Mini Art Club, mostly under 5s, Gander’s works being at their level was particularly attractive as if it was especially designed for their own individual tactile enjoyment and experience, a usually rare occurrence in a world for adults. At the time the exhibition filled more than 3 rooms and the group of children running errant on the floor with their parent or carer represented a real exploit of crowd management for us and the floor supervision staff. Magnus Opus, C++, whereby the wall was covered with palettes of colourful paints, and a whole (dark) room of lamps made by the artist using a variety of household products were among the most tempting objects for the little hands to grab if I remember well.

’Career seeking missile’

I myself got so taken by Gander’s art without realising it. Too tempted to read about every single piece, which was taking me too long I soon decided to just fly from one to the next like a bee is gathering pollen. This is when to my horror I noticed a rather large torn-up piece of paper littering the otherwise neat floor of the gallery. “Who on earth would do such a thing?” I wondered. Like a responsible volunteer (or so I thought), I swiftly picked up the offensive piece and shoved it in my pocket with the intention to bin it at the first opportunity.

Later when I found it again I had a good look at it. I remember it looked like a colour photocopy of a table arrangement, with some names crossed and others highlighted. I discarded it in the recycling bin.

Back home that evening, I read in detail about the pieces of the exhibition and saw Gander’s art work. Oops. I had just destroyed ’Career seeking missile’, one of Gander’s pieces. What will the gallery say? I had surely been captured on camera effectively stealing art! Will I be ‘fired’ from my position of volunteer? Will I have to explain myself, or worse, will I have to pay for the piece??…  No-one called me.

Two weeks later, I noticed the ‘piece’ had been simply replaced on the floor by a similar one (another colour photocopy!). Now, this was interesting. I decided there was no need to investigate any further.

Ryan Gander, I think you had great fun with us all. I surely won’t be forgetting your exhibition any time soon.

More Links on Ryan Gander’s exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery:

Ryan Gander Make Every Show like it’s your last The Guardian Review