by Karen Johnston
I spent my Valentine’s day this year forcing garden straws through sacks of potatoes, trying to balance the two to make a structure and trying to replicate the shape of a football using only my body all as part of the Hatton Gallery’s Volunteering Programme. This may sound like an unconventional day but it was great fun and just one of the many volunteering opportunities that TWAM have to offer.
The Hatton Gallery is undergoing an enormous £3.8million renovation which will see the gallery re-open in August 2017. Having seen the plans, I do not want to give too much away as to how the Gallery will change. The Hatton has been closed since February 2016 and as a result, TWAM and the Laing Art Gallery are working in conjunction with the Hatton Gallery and NE1 to create a temporary Pavilion structure to advertise the re-opening of the gallery. The idea is that the structure, created by former skater and current artist, Toby Paterson, will travel around several locations across Newcastle-Gateshead. The Pavilion will travel from Baltic Square to the Blue Carpet between April and August 2017, whilst stopping off at Northern Stage, Saltwell Park and Monument in between. Toby Paterson and the Hatton Art Gallery have developed a 10:1 scale model of what the Pavilion aims to look like. The structure will be approximately 80m by 60m and is entirely collapsible so that it can journey from one venue to the next. To celebrate the re-opening and re-development of the 105 years old gallery, the Pavilion will showcase replica posters used in previous exhibitions. The structure will be entirely free-standing and will allow the general public to meander through as they please. So what, I hear you ask, does this have to do with garden straws and potatoes?
The training session took place at the Laing Art Gallery with a collection of various people to help volunteers better understand the project. Volunteers of course were welcomed with open arms as well as members of the NE1 team, the TWAM team and a collection of other interesting folk. We began the afternoon with introductions from Hazel, Zoe and Richard of whom are the points of contact for all involved. Our first task of the day was to become more acquainted with the other volunteers. What better way to do this than demonstrating our (in)aptitude at creating a free-standing structure using only garden straws, potatoes and team work. Split into four and five teams; we worked together, we competed and we borrowed ideas from other groups to come up with several enormous structures spread throughout the room, each different from the next. Although one of the tallest structures there, the team that I was part of were disappointed to find that our structure collapsed somewhat spectacularly. As silly an activity as it was, it really loosened us all up and worked as an icebreaker. Of course I came away from that activity not only appreciating the importance of team work, but, understanding the complexities behind creating a free-standing structure that can support its’ own weight. This is an important aspect as the Pavilion structure will not always be facilitated throughout the day. However, I am sure aluminium and concrete blocks will be more secure against the North East weather than a potato and garden cane structure.
More silliness ensued later in the day when we were shown various images on screen that we needed to mimic using only our bodies. It started off quite easy with the angel of the North and a football which were two of the images. The shapes grew increasingly more difficult to mimic with a sailing ship proving one of the most difficult tasks to perform. Cue another team building exercise to try and make different shapes using different people. The training day was fantastic fun and it was great to see how accepting everyone was of the tasks.
In between the silliness, we received a lot of information throughout the day in order to provide the best service to the public. Richard guided us through customer service skills and demonstrated successful and unsuccessful methods to communicate with the general public using volunteers from the audience to act out situations. Undoubtedly, the training day reinforced an overall sense of community and delivered a hands-on approach throughout.
During the training we were given an in-depth history of the Hatton Gallery from Rob Airey the Keeper of Art. Although volunteers are not expected to demonstrate as much in-depth knowledge, it was helpful to learn about the building phases of the Hatton Gallery and the art collection to understand how the Gallery progresses from this point forwards. The Hatton Gallery holds an unusual collection of African sculpture, numerous Old Master paintings and the original wood cut block of a Thomas Bewick print to name but a few works. The new renovations will see many of the works displayed outside the limited storage areas to encourage a wider audience into the Gallery space. Interestingly, the development project hopes to inspire young children to embrace the Hatton Gallery with a newly designed area for the under 5’s. The Hatton Gallery hopes to become a fully inclusive Gallery and the Pavilion structure is no different. The locations of the travelling Pavilion have been deliberately chosen to appeal to a variety of people. As well as displaying some necessary changes, the Hatton Gallery will also include the renowned favourite of the Merz Barn Wall, a former focal point to the main Gallery space. As a volunteer it is an exciting time to be part of this transition as this inclusion is not typical of the Hatton Gallery. This particular Pavilion project will create numerous volunteering opportunities that the Hatton are keen to maintain. The closure and re-opening of the Gallery is a fantastic opportunity for the Hatton which was clearly reflected in the fun and frivolity that took place on Valentine’s day!