Introducing our new Kinnane Endowment Fund Visitor Engagement intern

1 Oct 2020
Rachel greeting a guest
Rachaell Crawford-Corser chatting with an Art Museum visitor about DEMOS by Andreas Angelidakis.

Rachaell Crawford-Corser is currently researching cultural mediation for her Master’s dissertation at UQ, so her appointment as our new Kinnane Endowment Fund Visitor Engagement intern is a heavenly match. We caught up with Rachaell to find out a little more about cultural mediation, her new role, and what she’s experienced so far.  

You’re the brand new Kinnane Endowment Fund Visitor Engagement intern but a big part of your job description is about cultural mediation. For those of us who aren’t familiar with that terminology, can you tell us what cultural mediation means to you and why it’s important?

Cultural mediation is a visitor engagement practice that encourages dialogue between a mediator and visitor who share ideas, thoughts and enquiries about artworks and exhibition themes. Our role as mediators is to journey alongside a visitor as they experience an exhibition or artwork – to facilitate a mutual exchange of ideas, and to deepen understandings of, and relationships with, art and the world it examines.

We avoid traditional scripted tours and adopt a more organic approach to engagement, allowing conversations to be led by both the visitor and our own personal perspectives and interests. This approach fosters mutual understanding and connection with our visitors. It also creates a comfortable space for them to question and explore their personal preferences and perspectives as they consider the artwork and their relationship to it more deeply. 

Cultural mediation is immensely valuable in this way because it helps to break down barriers to engagement among many visitors who may not have typically felt any understanding of or relationship to contemporary art, and it helps to provide a sense of connection and belonging within the Art Museum.

In a practical sense, how will you be involved in the development and roll out of cultural mediation at UQ Art Museum?

I’m currently helping to develop UQ Art Museum’s cultural mediation strategies, including frameworks for engagement and reflection in our everyday practice. Developing processes for ongoing self-development and peer-to-peer reflection is an integral part of a mediator’s practice. The very interpersonal and reflexive nature of the work means we need to support each other and to think about how we can enhance our interactions and provide points of interest for the diverse communities who visit us.

I’m also currently assisting in developing a cultural mediation program in partnership with Museums and Galleries New South Wales, who we are working with to share cultural mediation practices with regional galleries as part of Mel O’Callaghan’s Centre of the Centre exhibition tour.

Our team is really at the early stages of developing our cultural mediation program but we’re already having some amazing results, so I’m really excited to see where it leads.

Increasingly art museums are focused on the visitor’s experience – from the moment they walk through the doors, to their interactions with staff, finding their way around the building, the exhibition materials, and of course the main attraction, the art! Your role also contributes to the work UQ Art Museum is doing to enhance the experience our visitors have with us – can you share a bit about that work?

Sure! A comment I often get from visitors when I ask what they think about an artwork is that they don’t think they have anything to say about art – as if it’s a specialised language for which only a few of us hold the key.

My job is to break down that barrier and make people from all walks of life feel comfortable in the gallery space. We all bring unique and valid perspectives to artwork, and our discussions on the museum floor only become richer when they’re shared. And I find the work really comes alive for people when they’re able to find connection and relevance to their own lived experience.

You’re currently researching cultural mediation for your Master’s dissertation so I imagine this internship is the perfect way to put the theories you’re investigating into practice? What’s surprised you or been the most satisfying aspects of your interactions with visitors?

It is! I’m so very fortunate to have such a supportive learning environment at UQ Art Museum to develop my mediation research and practice.

I’ve noticed our visitors are becoming genuinely excited and engaged when they realise that they have a safe space to question and to explore their curiosity and connection to art with someone with dedicated time for them. Particularly in the time of COVID, when many of our international student visitors are separated from friends and family, they often stay and chat for extended periods of time. It’s great to see that the Art Museum is seen as a place for connection, as well as contemplation.  Once you get past people’s initial fears of not knowing, I’ve been surprised by how easily they open up about the thoughts and emotions an artwork sparks for them, which can be a bit of a rollercoaster on a busy day for us as mediators, but an absolute joy to be a part of.

Has the work you’ve been doing with UQ Art Museum influenced your career aspirations?

Yes, actually, I had no idea what professional areas I wanted to pursue when I began my postgraduate degree in Museum Studies. Throughout my time at UQ Art Museum, I’ve discovered a genuine love for visitor engagement. Public-facing roles in museums, galleries and most other industries are often seen as just a stepping-stone on your way to doing the ‘more important work’ behind the scenes. Through my role at UQ Art Museum, I’ve come to realise just how important this often undervalued work really is; we are the link to ensuring all the amazing work our artists, curatorial, education, exhibitions, advancement and collections teams do connects with our visiting community. I think cultural mediation plays a real role in highlighting the value of the field more broadly.

People think that walking through a gallery and seeing the same works every day might get monotonous, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every day in my practice I get to see the work through a myriad of brand-new perspectives and pay witness to all the joy, curiosity, fear, sadness and excitement that it may bring. It’s an absolute privilege to be part of that.

UQ Art Museum believes art museums should be safe spaces to exchange ideas, explore perspectives, and ask questions of one another. Our dedicated staff always welcome you to explore exhibitions with us, or to share your thoughts.

With your help, we can create many more professional opportunities for students like the one Rachaell is undertaking, which was possible due to the generosity of Paula and Tony Kinnane’s bequest.

Talk to us today about how your contribution can change students’ lives and the communities who benefit from the arts. Find out more