The rollercoaster that has been 2020…

Since finishing the 12 days of blogmas, life hasn’t exactly been how I pictured it would be! The year started with my Museum Traineeship Application being rejected, which led to a lot of introspection and the realisation that not only did I not have ‘what it takes’ to work for a museum in a paid capacity, but that I genuinely enjoyed and missed volunteering. I spoke to staff at the Museum of Archaology and Anthropology and enrolled as a Front of House volunteer, volunteering on a more regular basis.

“Great! I can volunteer every week!”, I excitedly thought… And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened…

I’ve not been in any museum since mid-March. The MAA isn’t reopening until the new academic year, and my capacity to volunteer will entirely depend on whether it is safe for me – as someone with compromised immunity – to return.

I’ve ‘met up’ virtually, over Zoom, with the rest of the team on a couple of occasions whilst in self-isolation, which has been lovely… but I do miss museum-ing. And yet, I have not had the time to dedicate to much ‘virtual’ museum engagement! I’ve been working full-time as a member of staff within the University of Cambridge; I started in my office-based role in February, only to end up working from home since mid-March! My job has been really fulfilling, but has left me feeling completely drained at times. The little spare time I’ve had has been filled with online courses, skyping my family, growing-my-own and attempting to stay sane by keeping life ticking over as ‘normally’ as possible – cooking, cleaning, gardening, and so on.

It has been a *very* strange time. I’m actually relatively surprised by how well I’ve coped, given how I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past. It’s been far from easy, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve not become a total hermit, or picked up a bad habit, or completely buckled under the pressure of living every day in a contained environment. There were a couple of occassions when times were particularly tough: I had a real crisis of self-esteem with my work, because isolation and reduced communication meant I struggled to position myself within the team; and my partner and I were meant to be going on holiday to Hawaii – a trip that was two years in the making – having not holidayed together since 2018, but that trip was inevitably cancelled. I know, such a hard life... I’ve felt very lucky, in fact, to live in Cambridge and have the luxury of a nice garden and the support of a great partner… I know many others have not been so lucky…

So, what does this mean going forward? I *hope* to keep working broadly within education, and I *hope* that the pandemic improves to the point where, at the very least, people are safer than they have been. I’m not where I imagined I would be a year ago, when I graduated. I don’t have a museum *job* and I don’t have control over my career. But, actually, I’m doing okay. I’m looking forward to eventually returning to volunteer at the MAA. I’m looking forward to seeing where this bonkers rollercoaster will take me next. I’m looking forward to making it out the other end of…*this*.

I hope people are keeping safe and well. Please, continue to take care.

Día de los Reyes: Celebrating Epiphany in the Hispanic World

Christianity is extremely prevelent across the Spanish-speaking world as a result of Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Conquest took place in a Golden Age of Spanish History, and in the Barroque period of the 17th Century, many famous Spanish artists returned to depictions of religious scenes and images in their work. Epiphany and the Adoration of the Magi was a particularly popular focus for Barroque artists. Adoración de los Reyes (1619) by Diego de Velazquez and the work of his contemporary, Peter Paul Rubens,  The Adoration of the Magi (1609), can both be seen in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

The Adoration of the Magi
Adoración de los Reyes Magos, Diego Velazquez

Whilst Epiphany – the day that the Three Wise Men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem to bring gifts to the baby Jesus – is celebrated throughout the Christian community, it is of particular importance in Hispanic culture. In 1885, the Spanish government called for a parade to mark the very special holiday. By the late 19th Century, most of the Spanish-speaking world had achieved independence from Spain, and it is thought that this is just one of the acts of government calling for a renewed sense of Spanish nationalism, rooted in traditional and religious values. However, the processions and festivities of the religious holiday became a prominent part of culture across Latin America, with only small changes made to the Spanish celebrations.

Throughout Spain, Mexico and much of Latin America, January 6th is the day upon which children receive their Christmas presents. Children in Latin America and Spain receive the majority of their gifts from the Three Kings, rather than from Santa Claus, and before going to bed, children traditionally place their old shoes in a place where the Kings can see them, ready to be filled with gifts by the wise men; In the morning, Hispanic children find thier shoes filled with toys and gifts, as many children would on Christmas Day.

Festivities officially begin the day before La Adoración de los Reyes Magos. On January 5th, in towns and cities, Spanish and Latin American families head to the streets to get a glimpse of the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (also known as the Bajada de Reyes in parts of South America, such as Peru), a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. Amidst dancers, musicians, and puppeteers, the Kings ride on camels or elaborate carnival floats throwing gifts of candy and sweets to the children in the street.

During Día de Los Reyes, Hispanic families serve Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. “Rosca” means wreath and “reyes” means kings. The Rosca de Reyes has an oval shape to symbolize a crown and has a figurine inside. In Spain there will be two plastic-wrapped figurines inside the cake: a faba bean and a small king. Whoever gets the slice of the cake with the small king is the “king” or “queen” of the banquet. As a result, this person will have good luck for the rest of the year. On the other hand, whoever finds the faba bean has to pay for the roscón! Meanwhile, in Mexico, a small doll is found in the middle of the fruit-loaf crown, which represents the baby Jesus and symbolises his hiding from King Herod’s troops.  Traditionally, roscas are adorned with dried and candied fruits to symbolize the many jewels that a crown would have and/or the precious gems that may have adorend the wise men’s clothing (although in Rubens’ painting, only one of the magi appears to be wearing anything that resembles jewels).

La Adoración de los Magos
The Adoration of the Magi, Peter Paul Rubens

What are your thought on Día de los Reyes? Feel free to comment your thoughts below, and thank you for reading!

 

5 Simple Things Museums Can Do to Help the Environment

In recent years, there has been a large focus on what individuals can do to help the environment. From switching energy suppliers to shopping more sustainably, people have been advised to change their everyday habits. Responsibility has been shifted away from governments and organisations to the individual, and in response, individuals have tried to shift the blame back to them when they fail to address the issues themselves. I think there is definitely a middle-ground to be had, and a ‘trickle up’ effect to be triggered. I am optimistic that if individuals within larger groups, communities and organisations make changes to help the environment, it will set a precedent that will force governments and transnational communities to listen. In museums, there are of course some limitations; certain artefacts and collections have to be kept at a particular temperature and humidity so that they do not deteriorate, for example. However, the following 5 actions are reasonable, feasible ways in which a Museum Professional could make their workplace more sustainable:

  1. Recycling bins: This may seem obvious, but this simple change could dramatically reduce the amount of material sent from your museum to landfill. Even if you already have recycling bins in your museum, think about how they are used. Are they available to staff AND visitors? Is there a clear guide near each bin about what is and isn’t recyclable? Are the bins easily locatable?
  2. No plastic bags: Museum shops often provide more rigid plastic bags than supermarkets, for example. Whilst this may encourage some visitors to reuse the bags, they are often also made in unhelpful sizes, designed specifically for postcards, pencils or other miscellanea, and are therefore left unused or put in the bin. Some museums now only offer paper bags, which is a better alterantive. I think museums should not encourage the use of ANY plastic bags; they are unneccesary and known to be damaging for the environment, taking much longer to decompose than other recyclables (if they are, indeed, recycled). The Horniman Museum has eradicated single use plastics from its catering – no plastic bottles, no plastic food wrap – but believes that paper bags are more expensive than plastic ones. Why not… insist that people bring their own, or SELL paper bags?
  3. Link collections to environmental issues: This is something that, as a museum volunteer, I have seen in practice. The MAA in Cambridge has linked its Pacific Islands collections to the environment by directly linking information about Pacific Communities to the effects of pollution and climate change on their livelihoods. The museum has also run events with a specific focus on global warming. The same has been done in several natural history museums, such as the collection at the Bristol Museum, who veiled animals that would become extinct as a result of global warming.
  4. Join a group or community that wants change: Culture Declares Emergency is just one of many communities of Arts & Heritage organisations that are fighting for the environment. Art not Oil is another. There are plenty of groups out there, and even if the museum you work for doesn’t want to declare itself a member, there’s nothing to say that you can’t and go on to enact small changes as a result.
  5. Incentivise sustainable travel: Whilst more difficult for smaller, rural museums to enforce, city or town museums could easily do this. Incentivising the use of bicycles, buses and trains over car travel, to staff AND visitors, may well reduce the environmental impact of visiting your museum.

Of course, there are larger things that can be done by museums to act in favour of sustainability, but they require meetings with operations teams, managers, directors, and so on. Small changes – if done well, advertised, and shouted about within the community – could well encourage bigger dicussions to happen. There is already a large eco-warrior community within the Arts & Heritage sector… let’s keep that trend going!

10 Books I’ll Be Reading in 2020

Throughout my degree, and since graduating, I have found it difficult to motivate myself to read for leisure. This is partly because I now find it more time and energy consuming to read than I once did, but it is also due to the link I’ve made in my brain between reading and studying. For some time now, I have been wanting to get back into the habit of reading regularly; I love book shopping and keep buying exciting-looking books in the hope they’ll peak my interest. And now I am putting my foot down. I will not be buying any more books until I have read the ones I already own. And so, here is a list of 10 books that I have bought and that I am yet to read but which I *will* be reading this year. My hope is that I can manage to read at least one book a month, at least to begin with… and to enjoy it!

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  1. ‘There is no Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years’ – Mike Berners-Lee (Non-Fiction/Manifesto): “We have the chance to live better than ever. But, as humans become ever more powerful, can we avoid blundering into disaster?” I’ve felt very upset and incredibly powerless in recent days, weeks and months with regard to global warming; it’s hard to know what to do, and if anything you can do will actually make a difference. I hope that this sheds some light on the topic and makes me feel empowered, rather than depressed…
  2. ‘Daily Rituals: Women at Work’ – Mason Currey (Non-Fiction/Biography): Currey’s book collates information about a host of inspirational women, from Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Bronte to Coco Chanel and Patti Smith, exploring their day-to-day lives and how they found time and got to work. This unsurprisingly appealed to the feminist in me.
  3. ‘Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking’ – Matthew Syed (Non-Fiction/Thought-Piece): “Success is no longer just about talent, or knowledge or skill. Today, it is also about freeing ourselves from the blinkers and blind spots that beset us all, and harnessing a critical new ingredient: cognitive diversity.” This intriguing thought-piece was a gift from my brother, who works in Mental Health and has ADHD and Aspergers, and who I love to bits. He hoped this book would help me to feel proud about thinking outside the box, and I’m certainly sure it will.
  4. ‘Kindfulness’ – Padraig O’Morain (Self-Help): “True self-care starts inside – with dropping the search for that ‘perfect’ persob and giving the gift of compassion to your imperfect self.” This book, featuring a 7-day course in self-compassion, is written by psycholtherapist, counsellor and former health correspondent of The Irish Times, Padraig O’Morain. Worth a try, eh?
  5. ‘Metamorphosis & Other Stories’ – Franz Kafka (Fiction): ‘Metamorphosis’ has been on my radar for a long time, and I have wanted to read it for about 6 years. The pre-war modern classic is perhaps Kafka’s most well-know works and whilst I would love for my German to be good enough to read this in its original language, the psychological and sociological subtexts are perhaps best processed in my mother-tongue.
  6. ‘Civilisations’ – Mary Beard (Non-Fiction): Part One, ‘How do we look?’ and Part Two, ‘The Eye of Faith’ form part of ‘Civilisations’, which has been made into a BBC Documentary series, presented by Mary Beard herself. I have resisted the temptation to watch the series before I have read the book, so the sooner I read this, the better!
  7. ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ – Robin Hobb (Fiction): “The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is dispised.” This story tells of Fitz’s training to become an assassin and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. This is one of my partner’s favourite books, but the copy is my own.
  8. ‘In Patagonia’ – Bruce Chatwin (Travel-writing): A gift from my parents, this book details Chatwin’s travels in southern Argentina and Chile. I was unable to go to Patagonia during my Year Abroad, but have every intention of returning one day. Maybe this book will catalyse that…?
  9. ‘The Skills: From First Job to Dream Job, What Every Woman Needs to Know’ – Mishal Husain (Non-Fiction/Memoire): I saw this book on a shelf with other ‘career-advice’ texts. I picked it up out of surprise that Mishal Husian had found the time to write a book, and bought it because it is one of the handful of candid texts I have seen on the topic. With chapter breakdowns such as “My journey to this book. Overcoming doubt. Finding my courage” and “Managing the different elements of your life. Banishing guilt. Thinking long-term”, this book seems at first glance to be both informative and reassuring. In Clare Balding’s words, “I wish I’d been able to read this when I was 20.”
  10. ‘Tidelands’ – Philippa Gregory (Fiction): “Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast”. Even though this story is set in Sussex, its cover design and blurb instantly conjured images of the Essex countryside where I grew up… I look forward to reading Gregory’s take on rural coastal life.

‘Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels’ at a glance

If you are looking for a family-friendly exhibition to start your year off, the British Library’s latest exhibtion may be just the thing. Addressing children’s stories, old and new, the exhibition exlores what it means to be a rebel, and the difference between naughtiness and bravery, misbehaviour and activism.

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I was delighted to see the ingenious way in which this particular exhibition was designed to engage adults and children alike. My favourite example can be seen below.

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At adults’ eye-level, an original draft and a later manuscript of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ are hung on the wall, with an explanation about how the content changed between versions of the same story; it is explained that Matilda was originally portrayed as a mischievous child until she was rewritten as a helpful, kind and brave little girl.

Meanwhile, at a child’s eye-level, a short passage reads:

Can you count how many korrections
corections correcshons corrections
Roald Dahl has made?

Remember to keep trying
next time you make a mistake.

You never know what
marvellous story it could lead to!

I think that the impact of correcting ‘correction’ and the message’s other simple language is a very clever way of engaging children and encouraging them to problem-solve. The link between mistake-making and creativity is a wonderfully positive message to communicate, especially in relation to such a well-known author whose stories may well inspire the children visiting the exhibition.

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The same double-captioning was used throughout the exhibition, as can be seen above with modern favourite ‘Clarice Bean’.  It’s also worth noting how the exhibition doesn’t shy away from exhibiting original content, from the collage-style page design on loan from Lauren Child (above) to handwritten manuscript of ‘Jane Eyre’ (below).

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Even though all of the exhibits sat behind glass, it was lovely to see old texts such as this Latin Textbook and ‘Child’s First Tales’…

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… sat next to ‘The Jolly Postman’ and ‘Tracy Beaker’…

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… as well as international, foreign-language texts such as this new edition of ‘Mulan’.

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This truly gorgeous exhibition is definitely worth a visit, and whilst it is certainly family-friendly, there’s more than enough for big-kids to enjoy too, with or without the brood!

Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels

– Free, and open until Sun 1st March 2020

I did a Museum Traineeship Application

As of literally 15 minutes ago (23:30 GMT), I have applied for a Museum Traineeship! My brain is buzzing and I think it is an important thing to post about, so I have included a couple of my answers to some of the application questions below (adapted and anonymised, of course). Hopefully, this will help anyone who is applying for entry-level museum roles to prepare for the sorts of questions you may be asked. Regardless of the outcome, I will share any feedback I receive from my application in a future post.

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Why do you want to work in museums?
From a young age, museums have played an important role in my life. As a child, museum visits engaged me intellectually and emotionally as they gave me so much material to connect with and think about. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Objects from the distant past are presented in a way that makes them seem otherworldly, intriguing and amazing, whilst objects taken from the recent past or present day possess a detached quality when placed in a museum, becoming objects you can analyse and think about.

My interest in social history and anthropology in particular is what led me to study Modern and Medieval Languages; when I applied to university, I was unaware that Anthropology existed as a discipline, but knew that I wanted to study a subject that would help me to further engage with the world around me. During my degree, I spent a year working abroad; I went to South America with the intention of gaining teaching experience whilst absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. I enjoyed the
experiences I had of teaching, but I now know that I do not want to be a school teacher, and this realisation has led me to focus my attention towards Arts & Heritage Education.
I successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge in 2018. I work one-off events and lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that
would normally be in storage or behind cases – something that I would have loved as a child. I help run activities that encourage children to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my studies to help them learn about world heritage.

Through my volunteer work, I have come to appreciate that museums are the happy meeting point of many things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education and outreach, people, and places. I believe cultural heritage – our own, and that of others – is something that should be accessible regardless of income, social status, gender, race, health issues or mother-tongue. Culture is something that everyone has and should have the ability to understand and explore. I am passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage, and I can achieve this through working in museums.

How do you feel you would benefit from the Traineeship?
I believe that the traineeship would provide me with a springboard for a career in the Arts & Heritage sector as a Museum Professional. I have found that finding work in the sector is extremely difficult without a Masters degree, and this is something that I am unable to carry out due to the financial and health implications it would have for me. However, because I have done a Bachelors degree, I cannot qualify for schoolleavers programmes or apprenticeships. I am also not in a financial position where I can work as a full-time volunteer, and so I feel that I am now stuck in a middle ground where museums are reluctant to employ me. This traineeship, however, would offer me the opportunity to learn about museum work in depth, regardless of otherwise limiting factors. The accessibility of the scheme mirrors that which I would hope to encourage within museums themselves, as someone who is passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage.

The traineeship would also give me the opportunity to learn alongside others stepping into the Arts & Heritage sector. Whilst I would be working independently in a designated role at an assigned museum, I would have the chance to be able to meet and talk to other trainees as we all progress through the traineeship together. In my experience, the museum community is incredibly supportive; Museum Hour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed to feel positive about your career.

I am determined to pursue a career as a Museum Professional, and the opportunities for self-development this traineeship will provide me with are unquestionable. I am keen to learn, and enjoy learning, so a traineeship comprising of a combination of on-the-job, supported and independent learning is an ideal format for me. Through self-development, I believe that I will gain the confidence to make a real difference within the Arts & Heritage sector in the future.

What qualities and skills can you bring to a trainee post?
Initiative, Independence and Drive: During my university study, I freelanced as a self employed Tutor, working 20 hrs/week on average. I also sought out and completed online courses as part of my professional development, including ‘WW1 Heroism: Through Art & Film’ (University of Leeds), ‘Politics, Art & Resistance’ (University of Kent) and ‘Exploring Copyright’ (CISAC). As a freelancer and student, I was able to manage my workload and time with positive results.

Teamwork Skills: Working as part of a team has been necessary to succeed in my past employment, particularly in the role of Enrichment Coordinator at a bilingual college. My ability to collaborate on teaching approaches, delegate tasks, act on instructions from colleagues and adapt to the needs of those around me allowed me to implement the best possible support for the SEN children I was teaching.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills: All my paid and voluntary experience has been client-facing in some capacity, requiring a high level of emotional intelligence, verbal clarity, understanding, cooperation and approachability, whilst setting and maintaining boundaries. My success as a Telephone Fundraiser demonstrates my capacity to conduct telephone communication effectively, maintaining strong existing relationships, whilst my teaching and volunteering experiences has relied on my ability to engage with people of a variety of ages and backgrounds.

Accuracy and Precision: My BA Hons degree required editing skills, detail-oriented close-readings, and a focus on grammatical, syntactical and lexical meticulousness, in English, French and Spanish; I wrote, on average, 2 essays (1500-2000 words) per week. My inquisitive nature led to many in-depth, constructive supervisions on a range of topics from Spanish Baroque Art to Contemporary Hungarian Cinema!

IT Skills: I am proficient in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), WordPress, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and Social Media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

Enthusiasm and Commitment: I have been a museum volunteer for 15 months and run a blog called ‘Museums and Musings’. I am determined and motivated to work as a Museum Professional. I am committed to completing the full traineeship. I would be able to work across the county and would be willing to keep in touch after the programme.

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Any comments on my answers? If you think so, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

A New Year…

80697409_648762552328923_6515338579122585600_n.jpgThis coming year, I want to exercise my mind and body on a daily basis. I was to live in a sustainable way; I want a lifestyle I can manage that is also sustainable for the environment. I want to secure a job with prospects – a traineeship, a long-term contract, or a foot in the door on the museum careers’ ladder. I want to spend more time with my friends, which includes volunteering. I want to look after myself, so that I can continue to build a bright future for myself.

I don’t think the above is too much to ask of myself. Regardless of what 2020 has to throw at me, I would like to think that I *can* have a really positive and productive year. Cheers, to a fresh start.

When life gives you lemons…

After the wonderful experience I had working full-time at Balik Arts, my standards were set pretty high for the opportunities that came my way from September onwards. I knew that my contract with the charity was temporary and so was applying to jobs throughout September for an immediate start on my return from Georgia. I remained relatively picky in my job search, only applying for roles that I genuinely wanted, in the Arts & Heritage and Charity sectors. And after dozens of unsuccessful applications, I was invited to interview at a refugee-resettlement charity.

I was ecstatic. I had found a charity that focussed on young people, was international and made me feel like I was making a difference. I interviewed at their Head Office towards the end of September and was offered the job I applied for within the week. I felt very proud of myself, especially given that I had to prepare and present a pitch as part of the interview process, which was something I had never done before. The team seemed lovely, as did my future boss, and I was offered the job with a starting date in mid-October. It was not an ideal contract, as it required me to spend the first couple of months away from home, but all in all it seemed like I was finally in a favourable, stable position.

Unfortunately, the job was not what it said on the tin, and the leadership team… left something to be desired. I spent four weeks working perfectly happily within the charity, being inducted into the role I had convinced myself would be *the one*, blissfully unaware that my role was rapidly morphing into something I did not want it to be. Out of the blue, I found myself in meetings with my line-manager where I was reduced to tears, character-assassinated and patronised, told that I wasn’t yet allowed to do the job I had signed up for… There was a fundamental misunderstanding of what a probation period is meant to be, and I was expected to roll over backwards and obey instructions until I could prove “strength of character” and thus be granted the role I had applied for… It didn’t seem right to me, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice my mental health and my happiness for the sake of a leadership team that didn’t have their priorities straight, so I resigned. In the space of six weeks, I had gone from employed, happy and motivated to resigning, resigned and low.

A month has passed since I handed in my resignation and I have no regrets about doing so. I deserve better. It has been a difficult month, and I still haven’t found a new full-time role yet, but I have taken on smaller freelance gigs and am much surer of myself than before. I look on the time I was employed by the refugee charity as a learning curve. More than anything, I am proud that I did not allow myself to be walked all over and I am proud of myself for getting back on my feet and not losing hope that I will soon find a job that is right for me.

There is a saying – “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” – that, in spite of its simplicity and overuse, has been worthwhile remembering over the last month. In common usage, it suggests that a positive “can-do” attitude can help in the face of adversity or misfortune. I think it means more than just seeing an opportunity and taking it, however; I think it implies that if life presents you with something that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, only time and effort can turn that into something sweeter – something positive, desirable and valuable. It’s less about what you *can* do and more about what you *must* do if you want a positive outcome.

Time and effort have, indeed, left me in a more positive mindset where I have been able to learn from my experience. I have rejected roles that compromise what I am comfortable with and prioritised my wellbeing above all else. I have restarted my job search and, as before, have only applied for roles that I genuinely want. I hope that my perseverance will pay off in the long run, but only time will tell… In the meantime, all I can do is focus on maintaining a positive yet realistic attitude, and keeping on “keeping on”.

Exploring the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi

Following the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival at the end of September, I went to Georgia as a representative of Balik Arts, with Balik Arts’ Chairperson, to take part in an Erasmus+ training program focusing on Gender Equality. Before meeting with representatives from across EU and EU-partner countries for the program in Bakuriani, I had a spare couple of days in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. Of course, this gave me the opportunity to do some site-seeing and get to know a bit more about Georgian heritage. Up to this point, I had never been to the Caucasus region and knew very little about soviet history, let alone ancient Caucasian history. And so, after making my way around the city to see its hilltop fortress, its many orthodox churches and its markets, it seemed only natural to take the time to explore the country’s National Museum.

It truly is an amazing museum. Although relatively new, its contents are incredibly varied and extremely well-curated. The museum integrates a number of collections that were previously housed elsewhere, including the Museum of Ethnography, the Institute of Paleobiology and the Museum of the Soviet Occupation. It is this latter collection that stood out to me as a must-see, as I was totally uneducated on the topic.

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The Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia was both educational and humbling. With a very simple layout and circular route spanning two levels, it detailed the events between 1919 – with the Founding Charter of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia – and the present day.

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Given recent political history, it was interesting to see the effects of both western and Soviet involvement in Georgia, which depicted both the UK and the USA in a relatively positive light. Russia (or rather, the former USSR) is unsurprisingly condemned throughout the exhibition, and with good reason; damning documents calling for the deaths of Georgian civilians, politicians and priests, photographs of those killed during the occupation, and propaganda are displayed on every wall. The photographs had a particularly strong impact. In many cases, a picture of siblings, cousins or a whole family would be presented with simple captions detailing who the people were, how they were related, where and when they were killed, and how old they were when they died. Poignantly, the exhibition opens and closes with a reflection on current relations with Russia. The emotionally charged film that can be seen as you enter the exhibition is contrasted with a map illustrating the bare facts as you leave the exhibition. I was astounded to discover that areas of Georgia remain under occupation and are sites of ongoing conflict… Indeed, the exhibition has been the subject of a great deal of criticism, with accusations that it exhibits “purely nationalist propaganda”. Given the evidence in the form of official documents, letters and photographs, however, it seems difficult to dispute its verisimilitude.

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Inevitably, the remaining exhibitions in the museum could not top the experience I had in the Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia, but I thoroughly enjoyed them nonetheless. The paleo-biological display of skulls was unlike any presentation of pre-Palaeolithic history I had seen before, and the examination of Georgia as a “crossroad of cultures” was fascinating. With artefacts dating back to 3000BC, I was left awestruck by the richness of Georgian culture.

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Particular attention was paid to the Goblet of Trialeti, a work of Bronze-Age goldsmithery encrusted with coloured stones and amber. I quickly learnt that Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus regions played an important role in the dissemination of cultural and technological innovations between the Middle East, Near East and Europe.

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I left the Georgian National Museum keen to learn even more about Georgian culture, and thankfully I had the opportunity to do so over the fortnight that followed. I doubt that I will find myself in Georgia again (at least, not any time soon) but I would definitely return to the museum again if I had the opportunity. I have to say, this museum takes tied first place with Madrid’s Archaeology Museum as the best museum I have been to this year. Please, if you happen to be passing through Tbilisi, take the time to visit this wonderful place – you won’t regret it!

Balik Arts and the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival

Having graduated, I spent July and early August looking for a foot in the door to paid work in the Arts and Heritage sector. Countless museum job applications were rejected, with few comments besides “your application was strong, but we had a lot of strong applicants who had more experience” as feedback. Fortunately, my first ‘break’ came in August when a small arts charity, Balik Arts, reached out to those who had been involved in the Watersprite Film Festival in search of assistance in the run up to their own festival.

Balik Arts was set up in 1999 to work primarily with young people in the UK and Turkey through the arts and film. Nearly 20 years on, the charity’s first festival in 2018 prioritised films made by younger generations – or where the main cast is young – in a section called ‘Young Blood’. The charity’s dedication to supporting young people is reflected in its mission, and in the words of its Director, Yesim:

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This year’s festival maintained its ‘Young Blood’ category and also explored pertinent issues such as migration, gender issues and the treatment of Turkey’s Kurdish population. All of the above, as well as the freelance nature of the role, drew me in. Over a two-month period, I acted as an Assistant to the Director whilst simultaneously taking responsibility for tasks such as liaising with high-profile attendees, sourcing printers, administrating, distributing posters, managing hospitality, managing volunteers, providing technical direction, and running a social media campaign. The result was the charity’s 2nd Taste of Anatolia Film Festival, whose opening gala I both curated and hosted.

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I have never been averse to public speaking, but until this point I had never *hosted* an event before. It was a daunting prospect, but thankfully the opening gala ran smoothly. The two days of screenings that followed also went well, with only a handful of minor hiccups along the way. I was particularly pleased at the number of people that showed up for our opening film, which was in fact a Kurdish film – a very smart, poignant move by the charity’s Director, I must say!

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The films we screened were coupled thematically – one short film with one feature-length film. I would encourage anyone even remotely interested in Turkish and Kurdish culture to watch the films we screened at the end of September, listed below:

In Between / Arada, by Kadir Eman
Pigeon Thieves / Güvercin Hırsızları, by Osman Nail Doğan
Parting Shot / Giderayak, by Özgür Cem Aksoy
Kazım, by Dilek Kaya
The Pit / Çukur, by Tilbe Cana İnan
Element of Crime / Suç Unsuru, by Süleyman Arda Eminçe
Two Days / İki Gün, by Nurdan Tümbek Tekeoğlu
Time to Leave / Vargit Zamanı, by Orhan Tekeoğlu
Crack in the Wall / Duvardaki Çatlak, by Hakan Ünal
SIREN’S CALL / Son Çıkış, by Ramin Matin
Ad Infinitum / Sonsuz, by Murat Çetinkaya
İçerdekiler / Insiders, by Hüseyin Karabey

Most of these films are rarely screened outside of Turkey, making the festival that Balik Arts runs even more significant. Some films, however, have been particularly well received and are given one-off screenings in London. ‘Insiders’, an award-winner directed by Hüseyin Karabey, is returning to screens by popular demand and will be shown at London’s Rio Cinema on Sunday 2nd February 2020. You can purchase tickets here.

Since the festival, I have continued to work with Balik Arts on an ad-hoc basis. Working with them has allowed me to visit Georgia and learn about the Caucasus region, make new friends and above all, feel valued. The work they do is truly inspired, and I wish that more British charities like this existed, encouraging an appreciation for other cultures. I hope to continue to work with Yesim for as long as possible, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Balik Arts in the coming year!