Hello, Michael here again.
As part of our traineeship, I recently worked on a placement at Firstsite, a contemporary art space in Colchester. One of the benefits of an external placement is that you get to see how a different cultural organisation operates. It was an interesting experience, which helped me think about the different challenges faced by each venue, as well as the similarities.
Both the museums and Firstsite need to engage with their visitors. They want to encourage them to come in, involve themselves with the exhibits and sometimes respond to the objects. This could be in the form of a workshop focusing on a certain display, a tour, trail or quiz. Both places aim to make visitors feel welcome and part of what they do. Both venues are part of the local community.
It has been interesting to see the differences too. Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion place great importance on the conservation and care of their collections. Light levels are carefully monitored, temperature is regularly assessed and a deep sense prevails that fragile objects must be preserved for future generations.
The focus seems slightly different in a contemporary art gallery as the work is often newly made. With the BP Portrait Award at Firstsite for example, the emphasis is on presenting works in the most sympathetic light, creating an environment that enhances the pictures and intensifies our experience of them. They may not be shielded from daylight in the same way as a Tudor portrait or Victorian watercolour on paper, but they require a different form of sensitivity in their display.
Curators of contemporary art can think differently. It has been fascinating to see how they are almost a different species to the museum curator. My placement has given me an opportunity to stand on both sides of the fence and interestingly, I have found that the grass is a rich shade of green wherever you are.