After volunteering at museums in Manchester and Shrewsbury, Dominic secured a place in Culture&’s the New Museum School (NMS) in collaboration with Create Jobs) in 2018, at the National Trust, Rainham Hall. Since then, he has joined the Wellcome Collection Exhibition’s Team on a two-year graduate placement. He is also a member of the Kids in Museums Youth Panel.
What did you learn about the arts industry through the New Museum School?
I learnt too many things to mention here, having only done sporadic volunteer work beforehand in museums. Everything from the simple things, like the differing roles and responsibilities within an institution, to the pressing and contentious debates within the industry.
What have you found rewarding and challenging from your experience of working in the sector?
The unique and varied nature of working within the sector is the most rewarding. Having only been in my current post for 6 months, I’ve been down a Cheshire salt mine to tour our deep-store archives, researched our Latin American botanical collections and travelled to Oslo with touring exhibitions, to name a few highlights. However, a challenge for me personally is being viewed as an alternative voice, there to challenge the status quo, when often I admire the work of my museum, which is why I want to work there.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice you have been given about working in the arts?
I’m not sure I can recall a specific moment of advice, but something valuable to pass on to current NMS students would be that you’ll most likely come across people who are negative about your prospects within the sector, but if it’s what you want to do, persevere and be as proactive as possible.
Tell us about an experience you have had that has taught you a lot about the arts.
I was fortunate to be able to go to last year’s Museums Association conference in Brighton, which had the theme of ‘Sustainable and Ethical Museums in a Globalised World.’ I think the two days I spent there crystallised why I love working in museums, but also why I find them frustrating and perplexing. Sessions responding to climate change and decolonisation packed the programme, filling me with optimism and pride at working in a sector that isn’t afraid to tackle these issues. However, I still left confused and frustrated in the knowledge that very little coordinated and large-scale change will be enacted, despite seeing a room full of museum professionals in agreement as to what needs to be done.
What does decolonisation mean to you?
It’s a process, with an endpoint unachievable without radical and unpopular change. Contested in theory, however, worthwhile in practice, affecting everything from what is on display, it’s interpretation, and the makeup of staff within an organisation.
Who inspires you in the industry? Why?
Someone who I owe a great deal of gratitude to is, Stella Halkyard, who was previously the Head of Special Collections at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. Stella was very kind with her time whilst I was at University and revealed to me for the first time the world of exhibition making. From that point on I was hooked and a career in museums seemed possible.
What does the industry need that is doesn’t have?
Something I was made acutely aware of whilst in the New Museum School and since, is the lack of ethnic minority representation in the arts and cultural sector. The latest figures have found that museums have the lowest BAME workforce in the cultural sector, at just 6%, which is the worst performing industry.
Tell us about an amazing book you have read that you would recommend to current NMS students.
I must admit, I’m not a massive reader, but one book I would highly recommend is Grayson Perry’s Playing to the Gallery, which offers an insider’s guide to the contemporary art world. He asks some of the most basic, yet revealing questions, in his uniquely humorous style, which is interspersed with charming and provocative illustrations.
Tell us about an artist that you love and why (include Instagram handle if they have one)?
This choice is a bit of a cop-out, but I really admire the work of Yellowzine, who are a print and online platform aiming to promote and inspire ethnic minority creatives in the UK.
Tell us about an exhibition you have visited that was either fantastic or disappointing. How would you do it differently?
One of my favourite exhibitions of the last few months was 24/7 at Somerset House. I loved the concept of the show, having always found the way people talk about being busy quite humorous. It was the perfect multi-sensory blend of light hearted and comical installations, anchored by more thought provoking and disturbing works, which made you question the commodification of time in the modern world. Also, an honourable mention to Into the Night at the Barbican, which re-created a living 1920’s jazz club.
How do you plan to change the art world through your work?
I’m not sure about ‘change’ the art world but working at the Wellcome Collection on touring exhibitions has helped me understand the value of partnerships within the cultural sector, particularly using the privileged position and resources of larger institutions to work with smaller and emerging arts organisations. I hope to enact some sort of change in that way.
Dominic Neergheen was interviewed by Sam Allen