Memories of the Barbican

Long before the coronavirus pandemic all but ground international travel to a halt, then-Master of Arts and Cultural Management student Melissa McShane had the invaluable opportunity to complete a month-long internship at the Barbican Centre in London thanks to the support of the Eric Ormond Baker Scholarship. Here, she tells us about her experience – and the lessons she’s taken with her.

The Barbican. An architectural maze. An artistic beast. An amazing experience. In mid-2019, I was fortunate enough to be able to witness, and participate in, the mechanics of such a large and prestigious arts organisation. I undertook an internship in the Barbican’s Development team, supporting the corporate fundraisers and assisting with sponsorship planning and acquisition for 2020 projects.

The Barbican Centre, London

The Barbican Centre London. Image by Melissa McShane.

My time in the Development department of the Barbican Centre was certainly exciting. I experienced funding changes by the City of London, donor and sponsor stewardship at events and openings, and grant applications won and lost. It was wonderful to be able to experience the familiar and the new, being able to capitalise on my prior experience in the arts sector in Melbourne.

It was refreshing being able take the time to truly research, and delve deeply into the workings of the Barbican. I will admit, at times it was difficult, though it was nice to feel as though I was learning on the job again. It was enlightening to be put in a new environment and learn new things, rather than taking for granted what you already know.

By being at the Barbican I was able to learn the importance of, and explore the detail in, each individual’s role. This differed from my experience in arts roles in Melbourne, where I have had to be an all-rounder. I believe this has really enhanced my professional perspective.

London drew me into every museum, art gallery and theatre production that I could find time for. Apart from attending exhibitions, performances and talks at the Barbican, in my short time in London I managed to visit the National Theatre, see the Dior exhibition along with the permanent collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and visit the British Museum. I also saw my requisite amount of Shakespeare – including A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre and Henry V at the Globe Theatre. I went from one end of the spectrum to the other, seeing the cabaret show Little Death Club at Underbelly Festival to The Lehman Trilogy on the West End. I walked the oldest corridors and floorboards as I explored the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. I spent sunny Saturdays exploring Portobello Road and Borough Markets. I met with other arts managers and interns to discuss the arts world in London.

Melissa McShane in London

Melissa McShane by the barge canal, London. Image supplied.

This experience has taught me hard skills, but it has also taught me persistence, to trust myself and to dive into the unknown – to seek out knowledge and pursue learning opportunities. I would not have been able to go to London for many years yet without the support of this scholarship, and I am so grateful to have been able to have the university exchange experience after eight years of tertiary study.

I am dreaming of the time when I will once again be able to go back to Europe to be engulfed in that depth of culture. Until that day, I am excited to once again pursue my work in Melbourne, bringing to my roles the level of precision, organisation and detail that I experienced at the Barbican.

The Eric Ormond Baker Scholarship provides Screen and Cultural Studies graduate students the opportunity to fund an Australian or international industry-based internship placement, and covers travel and living costs associated with this placement. This scholarship is an important step in further strengthening and developing studies in Screen Studies, Media and Communication, Cultural Studies and Arts and Cultural Management, and is made possible by generous support from the Eric Ormond Baker Trust.

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