One of the many roles Volunteers can play in our Museum & Galleries Service is that of invigilating temporary exhibitions. Obviously, while we’re still shut in response to Covid 19, they can’t do that, but one of our volunteers, Richard, offered instead to write a blog post about some of his experiences
Having been accepted as a volunteer following a relaxed process of scrutiny and accreditation, my first experience of gallery invigilation with Bradford Museums and Galleries came in late January 2020.
Shortly after its opening day, I found myself invigilating ”Precious and Rare: Islamic Metalwork from the Courtauld’ at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery. Within the permanent and varied collection of ‘conventional’ artwork lining the particular gallery’s walls had been assembled items of Islamic Metalwork, beautiful, pricelesss and amazing for their intricacy, drawing admiration for the skills employed in their creation.
So, at baseline an opportunity to learn about, appreciate and understand the existence of this craft and the cross-cultural influences that arose historically between the Muslim world and Europe. They were remarkably extensive as it turns out and stimulated by trading links of old.
But equally rewarding was the opportunity to engage with visitors, to learn from them and to hopefully enhance their experience of a visit to Cartwright Hall Art Gallery. The first was someone relatively local, who was visiting this exhibition specifically as a result of his interest in the work and from whom I learned a lot. For example we discussed the influence of calligraphy and its similarity to some western graphic lettering, particularly that of the script employed in ‘The Book of Kells’.
A second and engaging encounter was with a man who introduced himself as an artist, disclosing frankly during our conversation that he had been a real ‘wrong un’ in the earlier years of his life and that it was while serving time that he had found some constructive purpose to his life, a rehabilitation and redemption perhaps, through art. He had come to the exhibition to widen his experience and to discover and appreciate another form of art or craft different to his own, which he continued to pursue actively in his present life.
My third visitor of interest was a man, from out York way, who was in the habit of doing park runs on a Saturday, at a venue with a gallery fairly nearby, and that this time it had been Bradford and the Cartwright Hall. A man interested in the arts and crafts, he was involved in the community sharing his interests with others and was widening his knowledge and appreciation of a particular craft.
So, gallery invigilation isn’t just about ‘keeping an eye on things’ and counting the number of visitors ‘for the record’.
It can be a rewarding process of engagement and interaction that enhances a visitor’s experience and indeed one’s own.