Backstage at The Lowry: Rachel Graves, Galleries Administrator


Right from the day I started I was thrown in at the deep end with our most recent exhibition, Here’s One We Made Earlier.

It was basically my task to get all the object loans for that exhibition pinned down and agreed, get them on site and installed, and make sure all the lenders were happy.

That maybe doesn’t sound like a big deal but I was dealing with loans of objects that are worth lots of money, and more importantly are unique and very precious to their owners.

You need to make sure the right framework and insurance are in place. It can be quite a long-winded process.

It proved very popular, but then who can say no to an exhibition like that? It ticks all the boxes, and it being a collaboration with the BBC meant everybody recognised and connected with it. It would have taken quite a lot for it to have gone really wrong.

I’m really proud of the part I played and the fact it was a success. I think I also learned quite a lot, and it definitely helped me get to know everyone here at The Lowry because I had to work with so many people.

“I do all sorts of mad stuff in my job… on my list today I have all sorts of tasks…”

For me, with my background being more contemporary art and less museum objects, I really loved the picture by Peter Firmin and also the Captain Pugwash animation sets, which were both works on paper.

I just loved the care and attention that the people who had made them had lavished on them, the detail and the quality of those early television programmes. That was lovely.

I have been here almost exactly six months.

My role is more varied than the job title Administrator leads you to believe. I’m not at my desk all that much.

I deal with the logistical side of putting exhibitions together and looking after aspects of the LS Lowry collection.

That can be anything from putting together spreadsheets for insurers to co-ordinating shipping of art, being anywhere in the building dealing with the practical side of getting paintings wrapped, ready to be sent out. So much, I just can’t list it.

Before coming here I’d worked in art galleries for quite a few years, both front of house and freelance tech work.

Freelance art technicians, such as the guys we’ve got in at the moment for Akram Khan, help rip down exhibitions, wrap up the artworks and send back items to lenders, and then help us build the new exhibition in the gallery space.

That was experience that gave me the grounding for all the practical stuff that I do in my job.

I freelanced by being cheeky and sending my CV to people.

The first time I did it was at Nottingham Castle, and it was because I’d done some admin work there and they knew I was a practical person who could muck in and get my hands dirty and help with the build. As well as more gentle, arty stuff.

It’s not experience you get by going to university – you just have to get in there, get involved and a little volunteering doesn’t hurt.

Sooty formed part of the very successful Here’s One We Made Earlier exhibition.

Before that I was a gallery invigilator, helping visitors to get more out of the exhibition they were seeing… and of course making sure they didn’t touch the art!

Then the same galleries would sometimes require help installing new exhibitions, so I would get involved there.

So I was slowly building up experience. Most freelancers are artists as well, so people will talk and recommend each other.

I dabble as an artist. I’m interested in photography, which is what my degree was. Then I did an MA in Art History but focusing on photography and photographic techniques.

Although I would never want to be a professional artist, for me it’s important to have that practical side in what I do.

I don’t just sit there and think about art – I know how to make some of these things too, and I think that makes me better at my job. I have a wider understanding of the objects I’m helping to care for.

It’s been great working here. I’ve worked in a lot of places – I always seem to work on temporary contracts, so I have a lot to compare The Lowry to.

People here are so nice. I really enjoy coming to work and I’ve met loads of really lovely people.

I really like the variety of The Lowry. I researched past exhibitions when I came here for my interview and that range was really impressive.

Take the current BAFTA exhibition, which anyone can appreciate and you don’t have to be an expert.

But then you’ve got the more challenging exhibitions like the Performer as Curator series, which people will also travel quite a long way to come and see.

That’s quite a big deal, to have such a contemporary and exciting programme like that that’s not in London.

I do all sorts of mad stuff in my job, and you’ll see me wandering around with my notepad because this is the key to my job. If I don’t have this I don’t know what I’m doing.

On my list today I have all sorts of tasks – I have to ring the skip company to find out why it hasn’t arrived, I need to order dance flooring for a stage, and order samples of theatrical smells so our curator can choose what smell he wants his exhibition to have….

That’s kind of mad. I’d not done that before I’d worked here. My job contains all sorts of stuff that I’m not exactly used to… but it’s fun!