The focus of my practice-based PhD is the Education, Participation and Engagement (EPE), a Sub-group of Arnolfini’s Records housed at Bristol Archives. My approach to analysing this material has been two-fold. On the one hand I have been exploring my own subjective, embodied responses to it which I will explore in my next blog post. Here I introduce the data I am collecting from the EPE Sub-group and how I am working with it to deepen my own understanding of Gallery Education at Arnolfini.
The EPE Sub-group is divided into two Classes; the Education Department Documents (EDD) comprises of 16 boxes of paperwork, circa 1970s to 2010s and Sound Recordings (SR) is a collection of digitised audio recordings circa 1970s to 1990s.
[Fig 1] Engagement, Participation, Education Sub-group, Screenshot from Bristol Archives Catalogue,
Telling My Own Story
Arnolfini has been evolving and shape-shifting its relationships with visitors, audiences, communities and formal education institutions (including schools and Universities) since it was founded as a commercial art gallery in 1961. The documents in the EPE Subgroup are the material remains of the labour of Arnolfini's Gallery Educators. They fall into two main categories - Administration and Critical Pedagogy (Planning, Evaluation and Documentation).
[Fig 2] Two Main Categories of Items in the EPE Subgroup
I am responsible for creating some of this material whilst I worked at Arnolfini between 1995 to 2011 in roles ranging in responsibility and scope including; Gallery Information Assistant, Artist Educator, Education Coordinator and Participation & Outreach Coordinator.
What I Didn’t Know
When I started analysing the archives as an academic researcher, I very quickly realised I wasn’t clear about who key people were whose names kept reappearing in the EPE files. Very basic information about who has worked in Gallery Education at Arnolfini in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and in what capacity, was not readily available. This meant I was unable to link key events and innovations to specific people. I was also unable to work out who owned or created some items in the EDD. These knowledge gaps prompted me to collect the job titles of as many members of staff who had worked in gallery education related jobs at Arnolfini as possible [see Figs 3 - 6]. This entailed expanding my research across other Groups and Sub-groups in Arnolfini’s Records to include; Council of Management minutes, brochures and programmes. The Semi-Structured Interviews I have been conducting over the last two years have supported this work. I am also in contact with people who have worked at Arnolfini from 2000 onwards via email and Social Media. At the time of publishing this blog, the list [Figs 2 - 5] is still a work in progress. I have not shared the names of the people in the rows shaded in green as I still need to confirm their details with them.
[Fig 3 - 6] List of Job Titles Work In Progress:
Staff Who Have Worked in Education, Participation and Engagement at Arnolfini, 1978 - 2023.
Who Is Not Included
It is important to acknowledge my data collection and analysis does not include a range of people who have collaborated with Arnolfini's Gallery Educators since the 1970s including; artists, project administrators, specialists in other fields, academics, teachers, volunteers and community organisations. These people tended to work on a temporary, project by project basis rather than hold responsibility for producing Arnolfini's programmes and strategy. Exceptions to this rule include people and organisations who have been specifically invited to work as Education or Audience Development Consultants in the late 1990s and 2000s. I also have not included Gallery Information Assistants or Stewards. All these workers and their labour have made substantial contributions to the development of Gallery Education at Arnolfini and demand further research.
Centring Gallery Educators
My study focuses specifically on Gallery Education workers who have been contracted and paid through Arnolfini’s payroll, both as full and part time permanent employees. Focusing on the experiences of staff as opposed to collaborators, partners, audiences or visitors is enabling me to focus my attention on Arnolfini’s internal systems and structures. For example the list of job titles [Figs 3 - 6] evidences decision making at an institutional level about the position and scope of Gallery Education.
It important to note that I have not been able to interview everyone on the list. A lot of administration records produced by Gallery Educators at Arnolfini have never made it into Arnolfini’s archives. Admin and documentation I remember or have discussed during semi-structured interviews with Gallery Educators, have either been lost when it has been lent to other organisations or thrown out during staff changes and building refits. [Figs 3 - 6] are a simplified version of what is a messier and more complicated history.
Identifying a Lineage of Practitioners
I would assert the Education and Information Assistant job from 1978 is not the same as the current Head of Engagement, some forty-five years later. However, I do see a common thread running through all the jobs listed in [Fig 3 -6]; I recognise each person as being one part of a long lineage of practitioners responsible for administrating and programming Gallery Education.
To follow is a brief summary of Gallery Education jobs at Arnolfini and how they have expanded, contracted and gained traction over the last forty to fifty years. Arnolfini has tended to construct job titles in two parts, the first being a word or words that describe what the member of staff is responsible for. The second part denotes the post’s rank or position in the organisation (ie Assistant, Officer, Coordinator, Programmer and so on).
The Education & Information Assistant in between the mid 1970s to1983 were line managed by the Gallery Organiser. The Education & Information Assistant coordinated press and publicity for the exhibitions programme as well as working with schools, colleges and volunteers. In 1983 a two day a week Education Liaison Officer post was created specifically for gallery education. In 1987 the Education Liaison Officer posts became part time whilst a new part time Arts Access Officer post was created. In 1990 these posts merged, and the Education Officer became the organisation's first full-time gallery educator.
In 1999 the Education Officer moved onto another organisation and the Director also resigned. At this point I worked as Education Coordinator to maintain the education programme at Arnolfini for just over a year. This gave the new Director time to think the organisation's approach to education. In the early 2000s the Access and Education Programmer became part of the Senior Management Team. The Access and Education Programmer was also the first gallery educator at Arnolfini to manage another member of staff in their department supported initially through the Arts Council’s Show How Fellow scheme.
In 2008 Education was dropped from Arnolfini’s job titles in favour of Learning. Curator was introduced around this time too. Between 2008 and 2018 there was a flurry of changes in how Arnolfini named and positioned workers responsible for education, participation and engagement. Over the ensuing decade the staff team across the institution was substantially restructured, expanded and contracted. Around 2009 the departments known as Marketing and Education were merged to form a new department ‘Interaction’ with a Head of Interaction overseeing a Marketing Manager, Marketing, Publicity Coordinator, Curator (Learning) and Participation and Outreach Coordinator. In 2011 Arnolfini returned to separating out Marketing and Learning. Interpretation was added to the department’s job titles. In 2017 the term Engagement appeared, and Curator replaced with Producer. In 2022 the Engagement Producer was promoted to Head of Engagement, sharing a Programme Assistant with the Senior Management Team.
Precarious and Unstable
Aknowledging the existence of a lineage enables me to think about what this line of succession has brought to the institution and the values and practices it has accidentally and deliberately discarded or rejected over time. Although there have been some well managed handovers between posts, [Fig 2 -5] does not represent a lineal descent that is seamless and untroubled. Neither do I think every Arnolfini Gallery Educator would necessarily agree on what constitutes best practice. There are archival documents that suggest the future of gallery education has, at times, felt precarious and not fully understood by Arnolfini’s leadership. Keeping track of a rocky and unstable lineage is tricky, especially when workers have taken redundancy, been placed on furlough, left the organisation only to return some years later or have changed their job descriptions and titles multiple times. The more data I collect, the more difficult it becomes to contain or communicate these details in list form.
Using Miro, I am mapping [Figs 3 - 6] onto a timeline from 1961 to current day. I am drawing the list as a workflow chart, showing one job flowing onto the next [Fig 7] and illustrating departmental management structures where applicable. I am adding anecdotal details relating to other gallery education related roles. As with [Fig 3 - 6], the Miro Board is a work in progress.
[Fig 7] Gallery Educator Lineage, Detail from Timeline, Miro Board, September 2022 ongoing
Who Are Gallery Educators
Through careful analysis of the archives I am getting to know the people who have worked as Gallery Educators. We appear to have a lot in common. I would suggest we all share a desire to work toward social justice and cultural democracy; the language used to describe this has certainly changed over time. Before 2001 Gallery Educators at Arnolfini were exclusively white and female (myself included). During semi-structured interviews I am asking Gallery Educators how they describe their socio-economic backgrounds. It would appear those working in Gallery Education come from a mix of working and middle class families. Over the last 10 - 15 years it has been widely recognised, across Northern Europe, that Gallery Education is still a field lacking in diversity with a predominantly white, middle class and female labour force.
As my research progresses I want to continue thinking about how each Gallery Educator's practice is informed and shaped by their personal tastes, life experiences and networks. Since starting my PhD I have been reflecting on how I entered the institution in 1995 as a young Fine Art Graduate, with relative ease. Even though I was new to Bristol, having not grown up or studied here, I fitted in; at the same time I felt at odds with Arnolfini. I want to explore this conflict further. Investigating my own personal background and memories of working at Arnolfini is becoming increasingly important to my research. The performances I am developing with fax machines are part of this work. I am also beginning to overlay and connect my own personal history onto my Miro timelines including when I was born, started school and began visiting Arnolfini with my mum as a child [Fig 8]. I intend to continue populating this timeline with more anecdotal data about my own experiences and the lives of each named Gallery Educator in [Figs 3 - 6].
Gallery Educators do not work in isolation; they work as part of a staff team. Often cultral institutions, including Arnolfini, talk about working with communities. I would assert that employees at Arnolfini form a distinct community or kinship system in their own right. Gallery Educators are part of this kinship system. In order to capture and deepen my understanding of these internal structures changing over time, I am adding timelines of staff working in other programming departments including Music, Dance, Live Art, Cinema, Jewellery and Visual Arts. I am plotting these timelines in parallel with the Gallery Educator timeline [Fig 8]. There is scope here to expand this work to include lineages of operational staff including Front of House, Cleaners, Café Bar and so on.
As with Gallery Educators, data concerning other staff at Arnolfini is not readily available – perhaps with the exception of the Directors. Collecting and mapping lineages of workers from other departments is enabling me to draw comparisons and see differences. It would appear that in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Music, Dance and Live Art organisers at Arnolfini were actively producing distinct programmes of education, participation and engagement events whilst the responsibility for mediating and interpreting the exhibitions programme was not held by a Gallery Organiser or Curator but a separate and distinct Gallery Educator.
[Fig 9] shows a section from the Miro timeline where I am collating data about Arnolfini’s public programmes; I am beginning to add selected archival items too. As this work progresses, I will be able to trace how the formats and approaches gallery education and public events have evolved. [Fig 10] shows a view of the whole timeline. Each horizontal block of grey or white in the background denotes a different Director's tenure.
As well as the timeline lineages I have already discussed, I am also beginning to plot timelines for other forces influencing Gallery Education. [Fig 11] shows the working titles of these additional columns which I’ve defined as regional, national and international arts organisations, art theory, Arts Council and cultural policy and politics and Government. [Fig 12] shows a detail from these columns. Plotting this data is enabling me to position Gallery Educators within the cultural ecologies and government policies that shaped their practice whilst slowly weaving my own connections between these broader contexts and my own life story.
[Fig 8] Gallery and Music Organisers
Detail from Timeline, Miro Board, September 2022 ongoing
[Fig 9] Arnolfini’s Public Programmes
Detail from Timeline Miro Board, September 2022 ongoing
[Fig 10] Overview of the Timeline, Miro Board, September 2022 ongoing
[Fig 11] Detail from Timeline, Miro Board, September 2022
[Fig 12] Detail from Timeline, Miro Board, September 2022
Twists, Turns and Changes
Collecting and formatting data as lists and timelines, is enabling me to identify a series of junctions and turns in the evolution of Gallery Education at Arnolfini. In a podcast with Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Professor Nora Sternfeld identifies turns in cultural institutions as being ‘answers to a certain crisis, the crisis of the museum as it was . . . and this turn or that turn is part of something that is not able to continue as it was…’ So Gallery Education at Arnolfini can be understood as twisting and turning, particularly when the organisation is in crisis or at a point when it can no longer avoid change. Arnolfini's Records offers me a range of items that I relate to these these turning points. When Professor Shawn-Naphtali Sobers talks about survey research-studies that join the dots in the Black music journey he says 'The lines between the dots are moments of narrative, the places where stories and memories reside' (Black Everyday Lives, Material Culture and Narrative, Tings in de House, p76). I am engaged in a process of identifying the dots in Arnolfini's archives, between which my stories and memories reside. These stories and memories are currently held in the form of documents. I am reactivating these remains.
Communicating an Educational Roll
To follow, I describe a lecture I presented to MA Curating students at University of the West of England in February 2023. The Course Leader invited me to talk to students about the history of gallery education. I presented a lecture called ‘An Educational Roll’. You can download a PDF of the lecture slides below.
This lecture was an opportunity for me to draw on the archival data I am collecting. The title was adopted from One Person's View, Arnolfini and It's Image, an article in Arnolfini Review, September/October 1978. At the end of the text there appears to be a spelling mistake; I think ‘Roll’ should probably read ‘Role’. You can download a transcription of the full orginal article below.
The article's accidental wordplay felt appropriate to me as it described how education at Arnolfini is constantly turning over or being turned over on itself, gaining momentum and changing form, which I wanted to find a way of distilling and communicating.
During the lecture I shared A Lineage of Gallery Educators and Gallery Education [Fig 13]. This is a simplified spectrum of language taken from the first part of Arnolfini's Gallery Education job titles listed in [Figs 3 - 6]. Although similar job titles crop up in other cultural institutions [Fig 13] simplifies a lineage of Gallery Educators which is specific to Arnolfini.
[Fig 13] Lineage of Gallery Educators and Gallery Education:
A Spectrum of Language Drawn From a List of Arnolfini Job Titles
‘An Educational Roll’ Lecture
I talked about how the spectrum of language in [Fig 13] implies a gradual shift away from providing knowledge and information for audiences, toward supporting dialogic or reciprocal modes of engagement with them. I argued in my lecture that Gallery Educators at Arnolfini, from the 1970s through to today, have always combined these pedagogical modes in their practice. This changing language demonstrates or signals a very public recognition at an institutional level, of what these roles can and should be.
I also shared the next diagram [Fig 14] during my lecture. It offers a simplified overview of when the main different gallery education job titles were adopted at Arnolfini and how many staff were line managed by them. Arnolfini staff holding responsibility for gallery education have moved from being an Assistants in the 1970s/early 80s, to an Officer in the 1990s, and Programmers in the 2000s and then Curators and Producers after that. It is worth emphasising that Arnolfini was a little behind the curve in adopting the term Curator for someone working Education or Learning in the UK. For example Tate Liverpool opening in 1988 with Education Curators and Ikon Gallery had Education and Community Curators in the 1990s.
[Fig 14] Timeline of Gallery Education Jobs Titles
My intention is to continue formatting the data I am collecting. I am not in the business of collecting facts in order to create a definitive history or gallery education at Arnolfini. Rather I am interested in creating a frame on which to position my thinking and memories. My hope is that as well as supporting the development of the practice based element of my PhD, this work can support more informed dialogue about the history of education, participation and engagement at Arnolfini.