The Young Voices New Visions 2023 exhibition showcased work from over 50 local schools responding and celebrating the theme, ‘Time’. From 21 May to 27 May, Francesca Ridsdale took on the role of Exhibition Assistant, working alongside the curators to bring the exhibition together.

Francesca's Diary

Day one

The first day at the cathedral was quite relaxed and gave me time to familiarise myself with the space and consider how the final installation could look.

The cathedral is a beautiful place to showcase artwork, there is a sense of calm, stillness and solitude.

I was moved by a sense of nostalgia as I ventured into the crypt, its unique atmosphere evoking vague memories of school trips. 

Whilst we were waiting for artwork to be dropped off by the different schools Rich and I supervised whilst the white boards were installed and discussed what methods had been previously used to utilise space and lighting. Rich also told me about his experience working as an artist in Worcester. It was my role to help direct teachers to the right entrance, carry the work down into the undercroft and keep it organised.

It was fascinating to see how the children had taken the theme of time and created such a varied display of work. As someone who is an advocate for climate action it was inspiring to see that the younger generation used this exhibition as an opportunity to speak out on such important matters. Many of the pieces used the beauty of nature as a source of inspiration. Some of my favourites being the vibrant green jungle scenes created with oil paints and mosaic fish. 

Day two

I was looking forward to Day 2 so that we could properly look through all of the work and get started with the curation of the exhibition. With the last pieces of work still being dropped off by teachers, Rich, Steve and I carefully relocated the artwork upstairs into the cathedral cloisters.

The quantity of work seemed daunting at first but persevering, we began grouping work thematically, at all times giving consideration to which colours may complement each other. Some note-worthy themes other than climate change were the King's coronation, time pieces and sea life.

Once work was grouped by theme, we started placing the work next to the boards as a rough plan as to where the pieces could then be mounted and displayed. We discussed which pieces would need double boards rather than singles and which sculptural works would look best on tables or plinths. 

Day three

We planned to use coloured mount board as a background for most pieces to add visual impact and highlight different artwork. From the selection of different colours, we collectively decided on which colours to be placed with each artwork. We kept in mind the adjacent boards to avoid clashing colours and to ensure harmony throughout the space. Whilst reconfiguring and rearranging artwork we started to mount the pieces onto the boards.

As we progressed, we applied temporary labels with the school's name. These would then be replaced later with a laminated print out version. We worked methodically, section by section and I quickly learned that Rich and Steve had a fine-tuned system of getting the boards and the artwork stapled or nailed up. We tried to display younger children's work alongside the older children's work so that the exhibition as a whole would look coherent.

As the day reached its conclusion, weariness at our exertions was suddenly interrupted, as we heard a celestial melody echoing through the cathedral. It seemed to be coming from the chapter house. The singer's beautiful recital was an uplifting reminder of the unique nature of my surroundings.


Day four

Whilst Rich and Steve continued to mount work, I independently started filling the table displays. So far this was my favourite day as I had free reign to design the layouts how I wanted. I first began by using my phone to take pictures of the available tables so I could then mentally plan how much room I had and consider which sculptural pieces would pair well together. I tried to display a forest scene with a combination of bird sculptures crafted from recycled materials and other schools' hand painted rocks and decorative logs. There was a limited quantity of plinths, so I wanted to use them for maximum effect. For this table I laid the plinth horizontally like a shelf to create height and emulate how birds would be positioned in the wild. 

The large sundial sculpture made from natural materials, we decided was too heavy to hang and needed a table top. I used a single block plinth to tilt the table top, paired with a yellow mountboard behind to contrast the rich browns of the leaves and conkers. 

For the other table tops I used small single blocks to elevate certain pieces and chose coloured backgrounds to suit the theme with consideration to the opposing boards. For example, on my Shakespeare themed table top I used a dark red behind the skull sculptures as a complement to the gold paint, which created a dramatic effect. I had to improvise, using leftover packaging boxes to tilt the table tops when we had run out of small plinths. 

Day five

The end was in sight!

And nearing our deadline, we had to pick up the pace slightly. Unfortunate and unpredictable circumstances may occur, so I spent most of this day fixing minor breakages to fragile work. There was a series of Salvador Dali style clocks that had been cracked in transit. I fit the pieces together like a puzzle and glued them. Although my fingers were caked in super glue, the end result was worth the effort, as the cracks were hardly noticeable and almost looked intentional. Some 2D pieces had items glued on which were becoming loose so I reattached them to make sure they were sturdy throughout the exhibition. 

For the second half of the day, it was my role to decide how and where we would display the paper dream catchers. Some were used as part of a larger motif stapled to the boards but as there were lots of these we thought it would be best to hang the rest up. I first detangled the dreamcatchers. I then colour-matched some of the feathers to the dreamcatcher that it had fallen from and re-attached them. I punched small holes into each of these to be hung up on fishing wire in front of the windows. Although a fiddly process, I felt satisfied knowing each child's work will have its place in the exhibition. 

Day six

The sun was streaming through the stained-glass windows and the exhibition was really coming together.

But there were still some empty boards which were the priority to get filled. With a pile of seasonally themed work, I was given a small area by the cafe to curate. I made an effort to work quickly and efficiently in order to complete the task before the cafe opened for the day. It was an autumnal scene I was trying to create, using warm colours of yellow and red as a background. As this is a spot where people would be sitting, I wanted it to be vibrant and eye-catching.

After this section was finished, I continued assisting Rich and Steve in mounting artwork up for the rest of the day. I was thankful I had my running shoes on, as I went back and forth to the undercroft to swap or collect more coloured mountboards. I was often the person to stand back and make sure the boards and the work was mounted evenly. 

Day seven

Today was our last day and we were on schedule. It was time for the finishing touches. I was given a folder of all the school labels which I laid out onto a board so it was easier to find the school I was looking for. I then went round the cloisters placing the labels by the artwork, as Rich and Steve followed behind stapling these labels down.

At this stage I felt conflicting emotions. It felt that the team was working with efficiency towards a unified goal, and I was part of that team. But the project was nearing completion and I felt a little sadness that soon my role would end. Wanting this exhibition to look as professional as possible we then needed to tidy up, finding places for the artwork containers to be stored which could be easily located for the deinstallation. We walked round the exhibition a few times checking the way things looked, picturing it from an outsider's perspective. We took some photos, and with a little pride, admired our efforts.


Reflections on my overall experience:

I would like to thank Severn Arts for giving me this opportunity. Also 'thank you' to Rich and Steve for being accommodating and taking me along from start to finish of what is required to curate an exhibition. I have never worked on such a large scale to a strict deadline, but with the experience I’ve gained I believe I could do this again and possibly even curate my own solo exhibition in future.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend that other young people interested in the arts apply for this role in next year's exhibition.

A few things I learned from this:

  • I am now competent using a drill and other tools and I’m confident I could use them again.
  • I’ve understood how colours, theme and composition always needs to be taken into account when deciding how and where to display work. This ensures coherent flow throughout the exhibition as a whole.
  • Planning is essential and I learnt how it's done by laying the work out in groups before committing to nailing or stapling the work up. 

My words of advice to future assistants:

  • Be confident in expressing your ideas even if they are experimental yet still be open to change if this can't logistically be followed through. Some ideas may be a case of trial and error.
  • It is a good idea to test hanging pieces by holding them up against the windows as not all work stands out with the natural lighting shining through. Also, it is important to note that the lighting in different areas of the cloisters is subject to change throughout different times of the day.
  • Wear clothes you don't mind getting dusty or dirty and trainers as there will be lots of walking. Make sure to be aware of others using the cathedral.
  • Try to get any work done by the cafe before it opens and avoid the main church room when there are processions taking place. Methodically moving through the cloisters allowed us to keep track of what was done and what we still had left to do in the time frame. Often evaluate and remind yourself of the space you have left to work with by walking around the cloisters.
  • Keeping organised and making sure all work is labelled with its school name is necessary, because once work is nailed down it will be much harder to identify. Although it may be mentioned to watch your head when moving through the narrow doorways, it is easy to forget so be careful!