Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

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‘Interpretation is everything’

September 22nd, 2015

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds

Solomon Szekir-Papasavva studied MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds and now works as a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Solomon talks of his experiences as a student on the MA course and of how it has equipped him with the relevant skills and confidence to embark on a career in the museums sector:

‘I graduated with a BA in History and spent two years travelling and teaching English in Japan and Brazil. I loved being immersed in two distinctly vibrant cultures, and also loved the experience of learning and teaching, so wanted to explore a career in education and engagement in a cultural context.

‘I decided to study the MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies as I see the museum as a space accessible to all that can engage, educate and inspire. I love history as it gives us context and inspiration, and the museum is where stories can be told, experiences can be shared and lessons can be learned.

‘Before joining the MA course, I volunteered at Islington Museum and completed an internship at the Museum of London to learn more about working in the cultural sector. This experience showed me that collections management, interpretation and public engagement are the core areas at the heart of both local and major world-renowned museums.

Image of Solomon Szekir-Papasavva‘I specifically decided to study for the MA at Leeds as the course was broad enough to address both museums and art galleries, something I felt was necessary to fully prepare me for a career in the cultural sector. I was attracted by excellent educators like Mark Westgarth, Abigail Harrison-Moore and Gail Day. Leeds also boasts a relatively large number of museums and galleries and I felt the MA had to be accompanied with experience and work in the area.

‘Whilst on the course, I volunteered as Curatorial Assistant to Layla Bloom at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds, then front of house and education session leader at Thackray Medical Museum. Both opportunities allowed me to bring together the newly acquired perspectives from the MA with incredibly valuable practical expertise.

‘Leeds’ particular strength is its emphasis on interdisciplinary research. Over the course of my MA, I met and worked with students and tutors from the fields of Fine Art, Art History and Cultural Studies, which culminated in the presentation and critical discussion of my dissertation research at the department-wide symposium.

‘My dissertation focused on exhibition design, and specifically on the effectiveness of emotional engagement as a form of interpretation at the International Slavery Museum and Imperial War Museum North. As a part of this, and through the Museum, Object, Practice module, I completed a placement with Redman Design in Ilkley which gave me a valuable insight into the field of modern exhibition design.

‘The most important lesson learnt from the MA and from volunteering and placements in Leeds is that interpretation is everything. Every element of a museum’s collection policy, exhibition design, and education and events programme involves a conscious decision by a professional who is taking into consideration masses of research, government policy and internally-set targets. Learning about how those decisions are made has given me a firm grounding and knowledge to work in a variety of different roles in the cultural sector.

‘After graduating with my MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, I spent a year in Brazil where it was fascinating to compare the cultural sector there with the UK. I explored this further in a blog I wrote about the 9th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, and I was particularly interested in the role of mediators in interpreting artwork for a general audience with little previous experience of visiting museums or galleries: https://artinterpret.wordpress.com/

Image of engagement session at Wellcome‘I’m now at Wellcome Collection as a Visitor Experience Assistant, an extraordinary broad role which has seen me deliver tours and study days, and organise and deliver a programme of in-gallery events.

‘The most challenging and also most rewarding project I’ve worked on so far has been organising and delivering a series of in-gallery events for Wellcome’s Institute of Sexology exhibition which included candid and sometimes heated discussions on subjects such as pornography, gender and Freud, and involved experts and researchers from the field of sexology. The role involved a steep learning curve, but brought in and built on my experience in designing and delivering education sessions.

‘I’m currently working on an initiative called ‘Infectious Disease’, an hour-long drop-in session usually involving up to 15 participants, in collaboration with a member of the Wellcome Library team. This intimate visitor-focused conversation-based event explores the history and significance of two mystery diseases, and draws on Wellcome’s wealth of objects, images and printed archives. It takes place in the beautifully re-designed Reading Room, a hybrid exhibition/events/library space where visitors are invited to explore, socialise and share their expertise and experiences.

‘I love the diversity of this role and relish every fresh challenge. I am learning so much from working closely with exhibitions, events, collections and communications teams, all of which will prepare me for my next role. I feel lucky to be part of a team rich in knowledge and expertise, and to work for an organisation which prides itself in encouraging curiosity and improving wellbeing.’

Images (from top): Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery; Solomon Szekir-Papasavva; drop-in session at the Wellcome Collection Reading Room

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