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BEHIND THE SCENES

We speak to Operation's Manager, Paul Homer, about what happens during the gallery's installation periods.

What’s your role at the gallery?

I’m the Operations Manager which is a bit of everything really. I call it ‘everything but the art’. With the exception of curating, I’m involved in almost every aspect of the gallery, from helping to plan the exhibitions to insurance, finance, HR, anything to do with the building, and making sure that the systems work. I’m happy to advise on other things as well, such as marketing or curating, although I don’t have much experience in these areas.

What are your main tasks during the exhibition changeover periods?

The exhibition changeover period is probably my busiest time, when I’ll have multiple contractors on site doing various things. At the moment we’re in the middle of a three and a half week closure period. We had to get technicians in to safely take all the works off the walls and store them away and then the painters can come in and paint all the walls. We then have the technicians back in to hang the works for the exhibitions. At the same time we’ve got carpenters in to do a couple of tasks. I’m talking to couriers about transporting works from across the country. This time we’ve got work coming from Hereford Cathedral and from Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. I’m making sure that the van is booked on the right day, that the people who are collecting it know where they are collecting it from and the insurers are aware of it and properly dealt with. That’s my main task, co-ordinating all those people.

Then with the technicians themselves, they’re freelance, so I need to make sure we’ve got everything they need, like fittings for the paintings, any paint we need and materials. There’s quite a lot of ordering and organising before they come on site and just managing the work day to day on site.

What’s a typical working day during the installation period?

There’s no such thing as a typical day at the gallery but during the installation period, I tend to get in for around 8.30-9am before the technicians come in. I’ll open up the building, make sure they’ve got everything they need for the day and they understand what’s going on. I’ll catch up with them two or three times during the day, more often if there is a particular issue going on. Then I’m at my desk, trying to catch up with correspondence, doing any of my non-urgent work and probably talking to couriers and to our insurance brokers. There are usually lots of conversations with my colleagues, particularly our Director, Liz and Vic, the Assistant Curator, just to make sure that everything’s working in terms of getting everything on the walls and that they are in the right place. Also, co-ordinating with our Marketing Manager, Ella, making sure we have the exhibition text to go on the walls. So it’s varied.

What have you found the most challenging to date?

I think because I’ve not worked in a gallery situation before (my background is in running cinemas) I’m learning a lot about installing works. Getting the gallery open initially, almost two years ago, was very challenging because we had a brand new gallery and we were supposed to have almost three months with the gallery to ourselves but the main gallery contractors were still on site, probably, two weeks before we opened. And then we had contactors in to fit the kitchen. So, doing that, as well as learning how art work gets hung and trying to recruit technicians and buy all the kit for the first time, it was pretty full on. Nothing really compares to that, however we have had some individual hairy moments, items not arriving on time, or technical work taking longer than expected. At the moment we’re putting temporary walls up in the Foreshore Gallery and, however way we plan it, there’s always issues that arise, such as an air compressor that isn’t working, which delays the installation. There are always challenges but I kind of think I have a pretty good hook now on what we need to do to get the shows open.

What are you looking forward to the most about the forthcoming exhibitions?

I’m really looking forward to seeing the Alfred Wallis works. One of the things I have really enjoyed about working here is that I’m learning a lot more about art. I’ve kind of had a broad interest, with a reasonably shallow knowledge. Now I feel I’m learning more and more and there are certain paintings and painters that I really like and I think Wallis is one of them. I just really like the simplicity and the calmness of his paintings and they work so well with our coastal location. I think it’s perfect.

27 January, 2014
Written by Kirsty Williams