How my science degree led me to work at UVic’s art museum
Guest post by Mackenzie Marshall
Growing up with 4 older siblings who excelled at visual art, I knew it was not for me. In high school I took the mandatory art credit and never looked back.
Instead, I discovered a passion for chemistry, biology, and other core sciences that led me to study linguistics. When I first started post-secondary education, I chose to study health sciences at Western University. Science degrees never lead to jobs in the arts, right?
Fast forward a few years and you’ll find me working at UVic’s art museum: The University of Victoria Legacy Art Galleries.
So how did I get here?
After my first year of university I found a job as a tour guide in a unique, small-town lighthouse museum. I began doing tours, learned a great deal about educating groups, and memorized everything I could find about lighthouses. I decided to go back for a second summer and solidify these skills.
When I transferred schools to UVic to study linguistics, my interpersonal skills and adaptability landed me a position as a Visitor Experience Designer at the Royal BC Museum. Then, this past spring, I started thinking more about the possibility of working at UVic’s art museum: the Legacy Art Galleries. I saw a co-op job posting for a Visitor Outreach and Engagement Assistant, and I decided to apply.
I had, in fact, been to the UVic Legacy Art Galleries Downtown before. One time, my friends dragged me to the show Out of the Frame: Salish Printmaking. Hesitant to go, I was surprised to discover a fun, engaging art activity that got me out of my shell and made me feel comfortable in the gallery.
After, I took the time to explore the space, soon realizing that I didn’t need an art background to appreciate the artworks in the gallery. The nature of the show also sparked dialogue with my friends about the mistreatment, racism, and systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Reflecting on this dialogue, I realized that for visitor outreach and engagement I didn’t have to be an art expert. Instead, I needed to be interested in the exhibitions, be able to speak to the topics behind them, and be open to learning more.
I saw that the video exhibition There’s Blood in the Rocks would be on display, and it was something that I was interested in. It tells the often-silenced history of the 1862 smallpox epidemic in Victoria—which devastated thousands of West Coast First Nations people—through art. The gallery also provided educational tours, which was an area of interest for me.
For my interview, I researched as much as I could about the gallery and I focused on my strengths: my adaptability, interpersonal skills, and my understanding of Indigenous languages of the area. I also emphasized my desire to learn more about the gallery and have a role in visitor engagement.
I received a job offer and, relieved that my job search was over, happily accepted. This position has allowed me to learn and execute a wide variety of projects and tasks. My position of “Visitor Engagement and Outreach Assistant” came to mean many things, such as doing education tours for grade 4 students, providing outreach at the front desk and for festivals such as Car Free Day, and acting as a liaison between gallery personnel and artists.
All of these tasks and projects tied back to art, and art was consistently used to facilitate important dialogue. Seeing what a strong tool art can be, my perspective on what galleries offer UVic and the public has completely changed.
The exhibitions at the Legacy Art Galleries that I have been involved in this summer include a diverse mix of contemporary Indigenous art and architecture-themed displays that serve the public. There are even activities, like designing your own Frank Lloyd Wright window, that attract visitors. This diverse exhibition series means that most visitors who come in can find something they like, making visitor engagement more fulfilling.
Delving into art this summer has made me think deeper and gain perspective on certain topics. I have also discovered what kinds of art resonate with me the most. For me, that means an art piece or exhibition with a story behind it (I recommend Origin Stories).
I also realized that unless I am working in a lab setting, my science background might not actually get me a job in a science-related field. What it has given me, though, is a solid work ethic, an understanding of teamwork, and problem-solving skills. These, combined with my interpersonal skills, made me a solid candidate to work in a field that I knew little about.
Starting out my undergraduate degree, never in a million years did I think I would end up working in an art gallery. My advice to incoming and current students: follow your interests, try new things, and admit that your interests will (and should) change.