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Volunteering at uni – a graduate story

In 2015 I enrolled onto a Photography degree with no real desire to make money from it, or pursue it as a career, I just knew that I enjoyed telling stories through images, and eventually wanted to work somewhere in the cultural and creative sector. With that in mind I started my course and used the creative projects to tell the stories of those close to me, and my essays to explore the power of storytelling as a larger concept; what and who was included in history, who told their story and why were all questions that I was interested in exploring. 

During my second year we were able to choose an option module that didn’t directly relate to our studies. I chose a module called Arts Management Practice for Pioneers –  which was ‘designed to introduce a range of professional opportunities within the cultural and creative sector and to nurture the knowledge, skills and behaviours for professional work in the industry, whilst offering practical experience that links the cultural sector to your creative and professional development.’ 

Exhibition team planningPart of this module was a placement with local festival and project managers, curators and artists commissioned through national galleries and festivals. Along with another student, I supported a grassroots theatre company working with local youth, homeless and addiction organisations to produce a series of pop-up spoken word performances over the final weekend of the Brighton Festival. I thrived on helping to provide a space for other people to explore their creativity. From this I started to think about career options that involved making the arts more accessible to a wider audience, whilst also continuing to work on my own personal projects.

During my final year at university, I saw a call-out from the Museum of Ordinary People (MOOP) on Facebook looking for people who had a collection they were interested in exploring; this would be facilitated through a series of workshops that would ultimately end in an exhibition for the Brighton Fringe. The work I was making for my major project investigated my own family history, so I sent in a request, met with one of the co-founders to explore my collection, and was accepted to be a part of the working group. 

Over the course of the four months leading up to the exhibition our group became very involved all stages of the production, from reaching out and promoting the exhibition, to spending hours painting coats of white paint onto big, wooden boards, which we would eventually use to construct our ‘gallery’ walls. We worked hard and it paid off when our show won the Brighton Fringe Visual Arts Award. This coincided with me finishing my degree and I started working full-time in hospitality whilst figuring out my next step. 

Gallery install

MOOP’s co-founders and producer offered our group the opportunity to be involved with the museum’s ongoing projects and development.  I spoke to the team and told them how I had become interested in connecting with people who felt alienated by the arts and wanted to work on supporting communications and outreach. I began volunteering for a few hours a week, researching and reaching out to similar organisations, artists and practitioners, as well as building our social presence with content provided by the producer. Since I began volunteering with MOOP in 2018 I have supported a series of pop-up exhibitions with work from participants I connected with online, worked on a panel event with trustees debating the role and future of museums, and recently started to lead the new social media volunteers in a paid role. 

Whilst I was working my evening hospitality job, I enrolled on an intensive three-week digital skills course which highlighted the possibilities of connecting with a wider audience online to me. After completing this I enrolled on an online Digital Marketing course and started looking for a job which could further my progression. I’m now working in the Marketing and Communications department at the university and completing a Digital Marketing apprenticeship, which will give me the practical skills and knowledge to go and work in arts outreach and accessibility. 

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Catherine Johnson • 22nd October 2020

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