In this week’s blog, intern Jessica Riley reflects on a pandemic year spent working for the Art Collection.
Spending the last year interning with the University Of Stirling’s Art Collection has been an invaluable experience through which I have gained a great wealth of knowledge and had the opportunity to work with incredible people. I came to the Art Collection after completing my undergraduate studies at the University of St Andrews in Art History and English, keen to gain as much hands on experience and insight into the Art Collection as possible.
I was first introduced to Sarah Bromage, Deputy Curator of the University’s Art Collection and Archivist of the Scottish Political Archive, through a mentoring project we both worked on called Capturing Lives in Scotland’s Communities in the summer of 2020. Run by University Museums in Scotland in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, and Stirling, this project encouraged pupils aged 11-18 from across Scotland to explore their local communities to create artworks and achieve their Arts Award Explore qualification. As a mentor on this project, I was initially apprehensive about leading a group of students through their qualification using solely digital platforms, but Sarah’s enthusiasm quickly put me at ease and made the entire experience thoroughly enjoyable. While this was my first introduction to Sarah, it wasn’t until October 2020 that we actually met in person and I came to volunteer in the Art Collection. After deferring my master’s studies for a year, I felt immensely panicked and anxious about how I could productively spend the next twelve months ahead of me; however, once again, Sarah managed to assuage my anxiety by giving me the opportunity to intern in the Art Collection, as well as the Scottish Political Archive.
Over the last year, I have been able to work across of wide range of projects, with my primary focus being the cataloguing of the University’s collection of 1960s furniture. Photographing, documenting, and researching the many pieces of the furniture collection gave me an appreciation for the diligence and dedication that goes into maintaining and caring for art collections. I have also been able to assist with exhibition installations, conferences, the writing of gallery and exhibition labels, video projects, cataloguing archival materials, and mentoring school students with Sarah again for their Arts Award Bronze qualification. Though this only scratches the surface of the extensive responsibilities of the Art Collection, I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to gain experience across a breadth of different areas and an understanding of a fraction of the Art Collection’s vast work. My favourite memories of my time here are of the days when artworks were returned to their rightful places on the gallery walls; while many of the walls of the Pathfoot Building were bare over lockdown and during construction work carried out over the year, seeing the J D Fergussons finally return to the display cases in Gallery 1, the Second Chancers exhibition installed throughout the building, and the Blue exhibition go up in the Crush Hall immediately reinvigorated the Pathfoot Building with life and excitement. The transformative power of art to bring new energy and life into the University buildings perfectly encapsulates the value of the Art Collection and the importance of its work as part of the fabric of the University Of Stirling.
It goes without saying that this past year has been one of unremitting challenges and changes, all of which the Art Collection has expertly manoeuvred and adapted to in order to continue enriching the University through the presence of art in its buildings. The Art Collection’s theme this year is ‘The Art of Wellbeing,’ focusing on the relationship of art to health and wellbeing, an extremely apt choice for our current circumstances and the past eighteen months of extreme upheaval which we have collectively experienced. As we slowly regain a sense of normality and students and staff begin to filter into the University, bringing the gentle hum of life back into the Pathfoot Building, they are welcomed into a space rich with artworks and sculpture, only made possible by the dedication of the Art Collection and their continued commitment to making the University a space that celebrates and values art. The Blue exhibition in the Crush Hall, meditative and calming in nature, envelops students in a restorative space in which they can relax, study, converse, or simply sit quietly with their thoughts and the artworks. The displays of artworks around the University transform the institution from being simply a sterile place of learning into one that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and innovation and embodies culture and art within its very infrastructure. While I certainly cannot lay claim to all of the hard work carried out by the Art Collection’s team, I am very proud to have played a very small part in their work over the past year.
After graduating into a period of deep uncertainty and anxiety, I found solace in the University of Stirling’s Art Collection and the warm welcome of the team. Although my time here may have been initially punctuated by national lockdowns, confusing tier systems, and various levels of changing restrictions, volunteering with the Art Collection has, undoubtedly, been the highlight of my year. I am incredibly grateful and indebted to the staff here, especially Sarah Bromage, who have taken me under their tutelage and always treated me with kindness, patience, and respect – even when I broke the office laminator. My experience working here has allowed me to grow professionally and gain skills and knowledge that I will carry forward with me as I embark on a career within the museum and gallery sector; but, more than this, this past year has allowed me to rebuild the confidence that I lost during the haze of post-graduation identity crisis and pandemic-induced panic, and become a more confident and self-assured person. Though I am excited to embark on the next chapter of my life, I will greatly miss coming into the Pathfoot Building every week and being surrounded by amazing art and the team of the Art Collection. I would like to personally thank Sarah Bromage, Mark Ullrich, Fiona Clasen, and Jane Cameron for allowing me to come into the University Of Stirling every week and learn from their great expertise and knowledge, and all that they have done for me over the past year.