Working ‘front of house’ at John Hansard Gallery

Arts Ambassador and final year BA Geography student Nicole Wong shares her experience working at John Hansard Gallery. 

As February came to an end, my social circle and networks had expanded dramatically. Perhaps the biggest part of this was meeting with Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England,  for a formal coffee- conversation, sharing ideas towards the 10 years strategy consultation which they are currently planning for the future of arts and culture in England.

One of the my recent blogs I wrote was about my experience as an Art Ambassador working ‘behind the scenes of the John Hansard Gallery’. I felt this enormous sense of accomplishment when I was joined with thousands of people  crowding over  Guildhall Square to witness the launch of Studio 144 on 16 February. It was a statement that showed our Arts Ambassadors’ promotional efforts had definitely paid off but I didn’t want my involvement with Southampton Celebrates to end so quickly. So, a week later, I found myself working on the front line at John Hansard Gallery welcoming and stopping people running into Rhona Byrne’s enticing installation Huddlehood with their shoes on.

I’ve always been curious about how galleries operate and intrigued to find out how people go about working in them. I was intimidated by the thought of only being able to work at a gallery if you’ve had past involvement working or studying art or museum curation, as if I wasn’t going to be qualified to gain the experience due to my background reading Geography for the past three years. John Hansard Gallery were looking for temporary gallery assistants during their opening programme, Sampler so despite my concerns, I applied and got one of the roles because of my curiosity and enthusiasm to get involved in the all aspects of arts, and not because I’d done something similar before. I started my gallery shift as a student from the faculty of Social Science and finished it with an arts and culture experience in the bag. It was a mind opening experience and not intimidating after all.

Conversation station by ‘Stair, Slide, Space’

My first ever invigilation shift at the John Hansard Gallery happened to be on the last day of the Sampler exhibition, before the gallery closed to prepare for its official opening in May. It was great to hear so much positive feedback and excitement from the public who visited that day. There were even visitors who came back twice in one day, just to get the last glimpse of the artists’ work!

Over the hours of my very first and last shift, I met some very interesting people and local artists.  I stumbled across one artist and WSA Alumni, Amy Scott-Pillow, who has curated her own exhibition (re)construction with Abigail Day on at the K6 Gallery until 1 June 2018 (Go check it out if you want to see what a pub inside a telephone box looks like).

We danced and sang a little at times when the gallery was less busy. I felt so relaxed and welcomed when joining a team which had been working tirelessly for over a week and reinforcing their rapport with one another. It’s always hard in any social situation to enter a new group of people, when the bond and working rhythm had already been established, but the other invigilators and I quickly became friends and we exchanged Facebook immediately (after our shift of course) to keep in touch with each other’s lives.

Now I can tell people that I’ve worked at a gallery and I certainly cannot wait for John Hansard Gallery to reopen in May!

Southampton Celebrates took place on Friday 16 February 2018, celebrating the new homes of Nuffield Southampton Theatres, City Eye and John Hansard.  Sampler ran from 17 – 24 February 2018.

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton.



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