The Wellcome Trust offers recent graduates the opportunity to help shape the future of science-related research, education and arts in their Graduate Development Programme. One of our grads, Emily Pritchard, is coming to the end of her six month rotation at Wellcome Collection and tells us about the variety of projects she’s been involved in.
If someone asked you what stood out most in the first week of your new job in a new city and as a new graduate, a single phone call to IT probably wouldn’t make the cut. Then again, not everyone has to call IT and request them to remove the words “sex”, “pornography” and “penis” from your blocked search terms. This would be only one of the many phone calls IT would receive from me, but it is certainly one that stands out.
This incident marked the beginning of a whirlwind introduction to daily life at Wellcome Collection. Over the past five months I’ve worked across two departments on youth projects, the Wellcome Book Prize, Twitter accounts, websites, books and six exhibitions, including The Institute of Sexology and Forensics.
After a month I still couldn’t describe what a standard day was like but I was getting stuck in and beginning to understand the amount of effort required to put on the exhibitions at Wellcome Collection. I quickly acclimatised to an office where you’re just as likely to have a discussion about sex as about what you had for lunch, as I began working on clearing image rights for the upcoming Institute of Sexology exhibition.
As well as the huge archive of items Henry Wellcome collected, curators research objects from galleries and private collections all over the world to feature in exhibitions. Obtaining permission to borrow these requires a mammoth coordination effort – and that’s before you transporting any of them halfway across the globe!
One of my biggest projects involved going back to lenders to request the use of images of their objects for press, marketing and merchandising (for Forensics, Sexology and other, yet-to-be-revealed, exhibitions). For some images, this is really simple and artists are more than happy for their work to be used in this way. For others, it’s a complicated process of licensing agents, copyright and the personal preferences of the artist.
The international nature of these exhibitions further complicates things, with language barriers and copyright law differing between countries. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible to find out who owns the copyright to a certain item and you end up Googling yourself into a dead end.
The outcome of these negotiations can really shape the way the marketing and press teams target the public. Jo Finn touched on some of the consequences of these licenses in a previous blog post.
Wellcome Collection has a hugely active Youth Programme aimed at engaging young people with science and art. The second Young Creators project has just kicked off where a group of 14-19 year olds will work with a film maker and Wellcome staff to create a brand identity and trailer for youth participation at Wellcome Collection.
I was lucky enough to work on the end of the first project, organising the private viewing of ‘The Human Emporium’ exhibition (I now know what 8kg of body-part shaped sweets looks like), and the recruitment of the group for the second phase. Being able to gain experience at both ends of a project has been hugely rewarding and enjoyable.
Throughout my six months, the project I’ve continuously worked on has been running the Wellcome Book Prize Twitter account (@wellcomebkprize). As a fairly frequent tweeter of completely mundane things from my own personal account (mainly food), I approached this with the view of “how hard can this be?”
Harder than I thought, as demonstrated by the celebration when we finally reached 1000 followers. A book prize is essentially seasonal, with the shortlist and winner announcements happening fairly close together at a particular point in the year. Finding ways to actively engage your audience in the quiet period between prizes has been a fun challenge. Recently we joined in with #MuseumSelfieDay (a nice version of a phenomenon apparently called Hashjacking, who knew?) and snapped our very own #shelfies from the bookshelves around the Collection, Library and new Reading Room.
We’re currently planning how to use social media in the lead up to the shortlist announcement on 9 March. It’ll be a really busy time so having a good, clear idea of what we’re going to send out can really help take the pressure off on the day.
Sadly, my time at Wellcome Collection will come to an end in February when I move on to another department in the Wellcome Trust. I couldn’t have really asked for a more immersive start to my two years here: my eyes have been opened to an industry that I only ever had a superficial view of before.