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Claire FitzGerald

Claire studied at MA and PhD level with Warwick before moving into curation. She now works full-time as Curator (Modern & Contemporary) at the Government Art Collection (GAC). Claire describes being surrounded by art during her studies at Warwick, and explains what attracted her to the course.

"What first attracted me to the University of Warwick was the original approach and the range of the courses offered in History of Art. Moreover, the institution's location meant I was in close reach of relevant collections, libraries, and archives. The visibility of the university's art collection throughout campus and the presence of the Mead Gallery in the middle of it also made it feel like the right place for someone wanting to work in the art world. I had finished a BA in History Art and Film Studies in Switzerland and was spending a year interning in museums. I realised that I would require further studies to pursue the curatorial career that I had in mind. The MA provided the ideal amount of teaching and research support for my dissertation project.

"Throughout my studies at Warwick, I was surrounded by art. The close contact you get as a student with one of the UK’s leading art galleries is also unique. After my MA, the supportive environment of the department encouraged me to apply for a PhD, for which I was further fortunate to obtain funding. The object-led methodology I explored in my research reflected my interest in working with collections and has fed into the skill set I apply to my curatorial work. During my PhD, I had the opportunity to do some teaching in art history and to undertake teacher training – both of which have proved invaluable for my career and have influenced how I approach public engagement in a museum and gallery context.

"Today I work full-time as Curator (Modern & Contemporary) at the Government Art Collection (GAC), which I actually first visited on a student outing during my MA at Warwick. As a collection that represents the United Kingdom across the world, my specialism in British Art comes in handy. When I first started at the GAC in autumn 2018, I was part-time in a job-share, working as Curator: Research & Information (Modern & Contemporary). The potential to develop and make the role your own is a key factor that I look for in a job. Despite having a clear objective in mind, the pathway to the position I now occupy wasn't straightforward, and has typically involved juggling several (often non-sector) jobs and unpaid projects.

"Along the way, I gained experiences in a range of positions within different types of organisations. This gave me a holistic view of museums and will no doubt continue to help in the future. As I was spending evenings at the British Library editing my PhD thesis, the earlier part of my days was spent working for visitor services at the British Museum. I then worked part-time as Community Activity and Heritage Interpretation Officer for London Borough of Hillingdon (2016–18). There, I was able to build relationships with a range of audiences, develop an audio-guide, and set up a temporary exhibition programme. I combined this with volunteering on the Heritage Lottery-funded reinstatement of the Emery Walker Trust collection (2016–17), which allowed me to build skills in object handling, collection care, and collection management. I also worked for six months as a curatorial assistant in the Furniture, Textiles & Fashion department at the V&A (2018), where I enjoyed the strong research culture, and assisted with permanent display maintenance alongside loans and exhibitions. Weekends were spent working as operations supervisor at the Battle of Britain Bunker, leading a dedicated team of volunteers with whom I time-travelled from the 1940s time-capsule of the original bunker to the 21st-century visitor centre with its interactive digital displays.

"Now as a Curator at the GAC, my role is multi-faceted and involves developing art displays that get sent around the world. My previous experiences and my time studying History of Art at Warwick feed into my work daily: I provide research on artworks and interpretative texts for diverse audiences; I help increase the collection’s accessibility through our online catalogue, associated web-based content, and social media handles; I deliver public engagement such as guided tours and presentations; and I select and acquire new works for the collection.

"Ultimately, what I love most about being a curator is that – similarly to my experience at Warwick – you keep learning new things and you're always connected to others."