by Beth Richards, CHASE funded student at University of Sussex
With research demands running alongside my family commitments, I was initially unsure whether a placement in London would work for me. However, talking to other CHASE students, who had experienced a placement, I quickly realised that by limiting my placement to one day a week (working from 10 – 6pm) – in a negotiated process with the National Portrait Gallery – this was something I could accomplish.
CHASE funding facilitated my completion of an initial placement of 6 months working at the NPG as a Curatorial intern. Due to my successful integration into the department, I was then able to negotiate an additional 4-month extension. Previously working in Magazine publishing in London – before returning to academia – I was keen to experience professional working life with my newly developed academic skills. This is one of the strongest motivations for accepting a placement, it enables you to develop this expertise – broadening and extending the remit of your research within this context – with a view to future employment. It has been of tremendous value for both my academic and professional development.
Academically, I was able to work alongside a leading Eighteenth century curator in a gallery environment that is responding to the political and economic pressures present in our current society. My role involved research focused on the development of a major forthcoming exhibition: ‘The Art of Abolition’ (2023/4) which is based on a project initiated by Dr Gus Casely Hayford and is being curated by Dr Lucy Peltz in partnership with Bristol Museums and Galleries. I contributed to this project, by administering and maintaining the exhibition object data; producing a summary catalogue of the eighteenth-century oeuvre of pro-slavery and abolitionist caricature, identifying main themes and suggesting key works and their location for the exhibition list. In addition, I undertook research on the material and visual culture of the Royal African Company, a strand of work which was chosen in discussion and which was enhanced by my doctoral research into the East India Company, an organisation, which had links with, and similarities to the RAC. Moreover, I was able to make frequent and regular use of the Heinz Archive and Library – as it was just downstairs – which aided development of ideas relating to the exhibition research and for my own research topic. As a result, I have a far broader understanding of eighteenth century history, culture and society.
Professionally, I contributed to the curatorial culture of the Gallery, by giving a talk in the Department’s Research Seminar Series and attended various curatorial training events. Additionally, I was trained on the various collections’ management software used by the NPG. As such, I was able to form excellent connections with those working at the NPG. Funding from CHASE allowed me to concentrate on forming these relationships – whilst expanding my project – without worrying about the financial concerns of paying for travel to London every week, or working without pay. Most importantly, being able to say that I am a CHASE funded student, gave me far greater confidence working in the professional arts environment of the NPG, where a great deal of respect and support was shown to me.