Heritage

Art Beyond the Lecture Theatre: Internships and Opportunities in the Art World

By Nina Foster, BA History of Art Graduate 2016


Studying History of Art at Oxford gave me a fascinating insight into the incredible influence museums and collections have on public interaction with art. Although working in the arts is highly competitive and funded opportunities are rare, Oxford provides the perfect support system for finding exciting internships in all manner of art institutions. I cannot speak highly enough of the wonderful opportunities OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) offers for arts and humanities students. Each year OUIP has hundreds of internships around the world and in the UK, all of which are funded or paid. I have been fortunate to complete two OUIP internships and I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in working in the art world to take a look at what they have to offer. The History of Art department also offers the fantastic opportunity of an internship award at Waddesdon Manor; open to any humanities student with a research focus on art.

I hope that this post offers some inspiration and guidance for any current students or graduates hoping to take the first steps towards a career in the arts.

Working Abroad at the State Hermitage Museum

In the summer following my second year at Oxford I undertook a fully funded internship at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with a fellow undergraduate art historian. The internship was part of OUIP and included a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support a six week period in Russia. The application process involved filling out a form and writing a 600 word personal statement. My internship at the Hermitage mainly involved the organisation of the European Day of Languages Festival 2015, which was produced in collaboration with the EU Delegation in Russia. A typical day would involve heading to the office at around 11am (Russian working hours are quite different to the UK!) to work with the rest of the team to devise marketing ideas and strategies for the festival.

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Experimenting with marketing ideas: a collage of the grand staircase at the Hermitage

This experience gave me so much insight into all the other kind of work that goes on at a major museum beyond curation. I also had the opportunity to take weekly Russian language classes which really improved my confidence to speak in Russian. Also working at the Hermitage gives you free entrance to loads of arts and cultural institutions in St. Petersburg so it’s a great opportunity to explore Russia on a student budget. The team at the Hermitage was made up of inspiring like-minded young people from all around the world – many of which have become lasting friends. Living and working abroad while still at university is such an amazing opportunity and one that employers always ask me about in interviews. It demonstrates adventurousness, curiosity and adaptability so if you think that sounds like you definitely look at the international opportunities OUIP offers!

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Exploring Moscow: Nina and Fania visiting the Narkomfin building

Revitalising Underused Spaces with Ugly Duck

Throughout my third year of studies I became increasingly interested in the use of art to bring communities together and put forward new ideas in public spaces. Not only did this become the focus of my thesis, but I also began looking for opportunities to work in this field. Again I found a brilliant opportunity through OUIP – the chance to do a paid internship with a registered charity called Ugly Duck in London. Ugly Duck’s mission is an unusual but exciting idea – to revitalise underused spaces in overcrowded London. Ugly Duck repurposes empty buildings by opening them up for commercial venue hire for instance for photoshoots or filming. The spaces are also used by emerging artists, directors, activists or dancers through their biannual creative season. As with my Hermitage application I had to fill out a form and write a personal statement, I was also invited for an interview in London. I found this interview quite challenging as the team at Ugly Duck really wanted to know if I had done my research on the position, the organisation and whether I had any bright ideas for their work.

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The Ugly Duck Warehouse: one of my colleagues chatting to a potential client

My internship at Ugly Duck ran from July to September and was honestly an eye-opening experience. My role as City Hunt Coordinator focused on the development of Ugly Duck’s public spaces project. City Hunt is a hyper-local heritage game that operates on digital and analogue platforms. My work involved data analysis, securing new business partnerships and sourcing public funding by writing funding applications. Additionally, as Ugly Duck is run by a small team of only three staff I assisted in the day-to-day running of the business by taking bookings, managing the venue and liaising with artists. The breadth and variety of exciting responsibilities Ugly Duck offered me has given me such valuable experience for future employment and has inspired me to focus on a career that uses art for social impact.

Curating and Cataloguing at Waddesdon Manor

Each year there is a remarkable opportunity for an Oxford humanities student (BA, MA, PhD) to undertake a funded internship at Waddesdon Manor – a Rothschild chateau in Buckinghamshire now owned by the National Trust. Waddesdon is a truly unique place and the internship offers a very rare opportunity to assist in curation at an entry-level position. The position includes accommodation in a beautiful cottage in Waddesdon village as well as a bursary. The application process involved writing a statement about why I was interested in the role. I am particularly interested in the contemporary art at Waddesdon so that was the focus of my application. Also you have to submit written references from two tutors which I left until the very last minute so I would definitely recommend getting organised and giving them at least a week to do this! After submitting my application I had an interview in the History of Art department which was actually a really enjoyable experience.

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Not a bad office! The very grand approach to Waddesdon Manor

I started the Waddesdon internship in September 2016 and have so far found the experience very rewarding. I mainly work with the wonderful and inspiring senior curator Dr. Juliet Carey on the preparation of exhibition proposals and research projects. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with contemporary artists to help them explore the collection and produce work inspired by it. I have also gained experience of working with the collection management database which is a really essential skill for working in museums. I’ve met so many different people here who all share the same passion for Waddesdon and I have to say I now also share that passion!

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The incredible collections at Waddesdon include 18th century French decorative arts of the highest quality

My work experience seems only to have scratched the surface of the complexity and diversity of opportunities within the art world. The great thing about working in the arts is that there is no graduate scheme system, rather you have to find opportunities and devise your own career path. This is honestly really exciting and has led me to places I could never have imagined working. So, if I can offer any advice it’s to think broadly and look at opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone – you’ll probably find them through Oxford’s career network!


Nina completed her BA History of Art at the Department in 2016. She is currently  undertaking the Waddesdon Internship organised in collaboration with the History of Art Department.

Trusted Source: A New Oxford University and National Trust Collaboration

By Alice Purkiss, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate, University of Oxford and National Trust


stoweStowe Gardens © Dr Oliver Cox

At the beginning of February the University embarked upon a new collaboration with the National Trust in a bid to enhance visitor experience at the charity’s historic properties and outdoor spaces through research.

Funded by the AHRC and the National Trust, the Trusted Source project is the culmination of a series of successful collaborations running over the past five years between the University and the Trust, coordinated by Oxford’s Heritage Engagement Fellow, Dr Oliver Cox. Having studied at the History of Art Department for my MSt, I was delighted to return to the University to develop this exciting new partnership, and to work with colleagues old and new at both institutions.

Trusted Source has been commissioned as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), an Innovate UK scheme devised to encourage businesses to innovate and grow. It does this by linking them with a university and a graduate to work on a specific project. Usually awarded to the science and industry sectors, this is one of the few heritage-based KTPs funded in the initiative’s 40 year history, and the first awarded to both the Humanities Division at Oxford and the National Trust.

What is Trusted Source?
The aim of the partnership is to create Trusted Source; a new online resource featured on the National Trust’s website containing concise, engaging and accessible articles about history, culture and the national environment that draw out connections between collections, places, properties and people. Crowdsourced from university researchers and National Trust specialists, this resource aims to enhance visitor experience of National Trust properties and places. Furthermore, in doing this we hope to encourage more meaningful public engagement with, and enhanced understanding of, Britain’s wider cultural heritage and natural environment.

As a key advocate for the project, the Trust’s Director General, Dame Helen Ghosh, states:
We want to tell the stories of the collections and properties in our care in an engaging, accurate and inspiring way. Using the latest academic research, Trusted Source will help us enhance the experience we give our members and visitors, uncover new information and deepen our understanding of the heritage in our care. As well as enriching our interpretation at properties, the resources created during this important collaborative partnership will be freely available online for everyone to explore.

Benefits & Opportunities at Oxford
It’s important to stress that the National Trust and its visitors are not the only intended beneficiaries of Trusted Source; the opportunities the project offers to researchers here at Oxford are significant too, and a particular consideration of mine. In addition to providing research and networking opportunities with a leading cultural institution, Trusted Source offers its contributors meaningful work experience and visibility within a highly competitive sector that is increasingly hard to come by.

The articles are authored, and contributors are given an ‘Author Profile’ page on the National Trust’s website featuring a short biography and a list of the articles they have written. With the Trust’s website receiving over 11 million page hits every year from over 2 million unique visitors, becoming a contributor can significantly boost online research profiles, offer valuable Public Engagement with Research (PER) experience, and enable researchers to experiment with communicating their work to a new and diverse audience. Academics from across the University from Masters level upwards are invited to contribute, be it with one Trusted Source article, or 20!

First Steps
To begin the article commissioning process, the first call-out for researchers was devised to support the current Landscape Programme at Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire, an initiative comprising of fifty four tasks taking place over five years to return the gardens to their former glory. Highlights include the return of missing statues, monuments and paths, and the opening of parts of the gardens not currently open to the public. In support of this, Trusted Source involvement sought to assist in unravelling the puzzling circumstances surrounding Stowe’s Gothic Cross, a Coade Stone monument placed in the landscape in the early 19th century and later destroyed, it is believed, by a falling tree.

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Left: The base of Stowe’s Gothic Cross, 1991. Right: Fragment of the Gothic Cross. Photographs © National Trust.

In March, University researchers and National Trust staff attended a workshop at St John’s College at which Trusted Source was introduced and opportunities for academic research on the Gothic Cross detailed. A variety of articles were written as a result of this workshop, including texts on lost medieval villages, Whig landscapes, Gothic Revival, Coade stone and the meaning of patriotism, to name a few. Each article uses Stowe as one of a number of examples of the feature or question being explored, therefore these short articles connect up the National Trust’s portfolio of properties, places and collections in new and surprising ways. See the articles with the corresponding ‘Author Profiles’ on the Trust’s website here: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ktp

What’s next?
Over the coming months the Trusted Source project team will continue to foster strong bonds between these two leading organisations and commission engaging and accessible articles which support a whole host of Trust properties, places, and projects; from stately homes, working farms and natural landscapes, to Trust-wide programming themes. Articles will be commissioned through a variety of means, including events and workshops based upon specific National Trust projects and themes, through general article writing workshops hosted at the History of Art Department, and by embedding Trusted Source into Humanities doctoral training.

The project’s legacy beyond the two years of the KTP is highly significant, and a central consideration for both institutions. By formalising a clear methodology for sharing knowledge between these two leading organisations, we hope to establish a blueprint for collaboration that can be adopted by other academic institutions and heritage organisations internationally, thereby encouraging further stories about places to be told and enriched through research.

Interested in becoming a Trusted Source contributor?
For more information on Trusted Source including details on how to contribute, please visit http://torch.ox.ac.uk/trusted-source or email alice.purkiss@history.ox.ac.uk.


Alice completed her Masters in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the Department in 2012. Before this role Alice was a Curatorial Trainee at The Charleston Trust, an experience which she wrote about for the blog last year.