The student view

Katrina Man, a previous recipient of The Hepworth Wakefield Partnership Studentship, found her placement at The Hepworth Wakefield gave her an extremely valuable experience of the practicalities of working in a public art museum, which will be very useful for pursuing a career in the art world.‌

What were you working on during the placement?

I was mostly working on the then upcoming ‘Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain’ and ‘Viviane Sassen: Hot Mirror’ exhibitions, helping the curatorial team with any final preparation and the installation of the shows. This included confirming insurance, creating curatorial aids, creating courier information packs and condition checking artworks with a conservator. I also helped to write loan request letters for a future show and worked with documents from the museum’s archive for the then upcoming ‘Giles Round: The Director’ exhibition as well as to research a particular painting in the museum’s collection.         

What experiences would you say were the most useful or unexpected?

I found sitting in on various meetings the curatorial team were involved in to be very insightful as they really enhanced my understanding of all of the factors, often very practical factors, that are involved when planning and executing exhibitions and events at a public art institution. When I was working with the archive, I learnt a lot about the core aims of the museum, its history and how it strives to be a valuable resource for the local community of Wakefield. This increased my understanding of the role of a public art museum in its local community and therefore how important it is to ensure that the museum’s exhibitions, events and education programme can engage a range of members of the community as well as attract an international audience.

It was also extremely useful to be involved in many aspects of the planning and installation of the two exhibitions. Whilst I have had lots of experience of executing exhibitions in a commercial gallery context, this was my first time working on an exhibition in a public museum context. The much larger scale and wider audiences of these exhibitions meant that there were many more factors to consider and that the planning and installation is much more in depth than commercial art gallery exhibitions. Working on the insurance, courier information packs and condition checking artworks upon arrival were particularly new and valuable experiences for me.          

Who did you work with and how did the institution make use of you?

I primarily worked with the curatorial team, comprising the curators and the gallery technicians. It was brilliant to work very closely with the curatorial team during my time at the museum as I was able to get involved in a wide variety of their roles and I really learnt a lot from everyone. I worked particularly closely with one of the assistant curators who spent a lot of time teaching me the ropes of the day to day running of a public art institution and the specific role of the curators, which I hugely appreciated. Through working closely with the curators, I was able to assist with important tasks that they had not yet completed due to time restraints so I hope that I was able to be of use in the execution of these exhibitions and the preparation for future shows.          

What did you value most about your experience with the institution?

I really valued being able to get involved in and learn about the reality of the day to day running of a public art museum, as this experience can only be gained by actually working at an institution. As gaining internships at public art institutions are extremely difficult I was really grateful for the partnership studentship programme for giving us the opportunity to work for an incredible museum such as The Hepworth Wakefield.    

How did your work with The Hepworth Wakefield enhance your studies at York?

It was a great opportunity to spent time away from studying in the library and to learn about the art world through more practical tasks and by working in a team. The practicalities of planning and executing exhibitions and events are not covered in the MA programme so it was great to experience this first hand at the museum. As I knew I would be working at the museum in the summer, I made a few trips to The Hepworth Wakefield during my studies, including a course trip with my sculpture module, which proved to be particularly stimulating for this sculpture module as the museum has a brilliant sculpture collection. After seeing the ‘Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes’ exhibition and attending the accompanying conference held at the museum, I wrote about the artist’s work for my sculpture module essay.  

In addition, the Hepworth Wakefield placement allowed me to explore a different part of Yorkshire, that of Wakefield, through learning about how the museum preserves and promotes the cultural heritage of Wakefield and acts as an invaluable cultural resource for the community. I also learnt about the city and how it is becoming a prominent cultural hub by attending the Wakefield Artwalk after work one evening. Through my placement, I also learnt more about the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle which enriched my experience of each of the included venues and the Yorkshire art scene at large during my time in York.        

Do you feel it has been helpful with career planning or improved your job prospects, and if yes, how?

Absolutely! I now feel significantly more knowledgeable of how a public art museum is run so feel more prepared to apply for jobs in public art institutions. I hope that this placement will demonstrate to employers that I have begun gaining the skills and knowledge required for working in a public art institution, especially as The Hepworth Wakefield is an internationally-renowned art museum. The curatorial team have provided me with some excellent advice regarding pursuing a career in the art world.    

Would you recommend it to future students?   

If you are interested in working for a museum or gallery in the future, particularly one that specialises in modern and contemporary art, then I definitely recommend applying! It has been a completely invaluable, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable experience and a highlight of my year in York.

Read also an article by Fruzsina Vida, the 2021/22 recpient of the Hepworth Wakefield Studentship.