Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #2

After we submitted our final proposal for funding for the Afterlife of Heritage scheme, things started to move rapidly. Our cultural partner, The Manchester Art Gallery, needed to secure the date for our event. We met and chose to have it 30 May instead of during the summer, hoping to catch some students who might still be in town. Unknowingly, choosing this date meant that the speaker we had wanted to invite, Carol Mavor, would be unavailable. Our partners at MAG, were undaunted and suggested that Sophie and I showcase our own expertise by giving a guided tour. They said that the public loves getting to hear from specialists, which sounded both intimidating and encouraging to us.

Then we did receive official confirmation that we were awarded Afterlife of Heritage funding. Even though we had already dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to the project, it all seemed very tentative until we received this notification. It felt quite strange to do so much planning before funding was confirmed.

With the date finalised and funding confirmed Sophie and I set down to planning what we wanted the night to look like. We decided we would choose a few artworks that relate to our theme of Marcel Proust in 1913 to focus on in our guided tour. We met at MAG and had a long walk around the spaces to think about how the works were arranged and how appropriate certain pieces would be to highlight. We were also informed by the gallery that they would be installing a Delphos gown (on loan from the Costume Gallery), which was made by Mariano Fortuny- the artist on whom I am writing my thesis. Fortuny is also a very notable artist in the writings of Marcel Proust and we knew it was a perfect object to include in our tour.

We had also wanted to have a unique element to our event that invoked other senses/sensibilities. We investigated the possibility of having a magic lantern show, but our budget did not really allow for it. We then thought of having musicians from RNCM, utilising the relationship I already have with the staff in charge of liaising student bookings. I had a meeting with Abi Collins from RNCM where I told her our budget, our theme, and our idea of having musicians stationed around MAG to incorporate in our tour. She offered a few suggestions as to which musical instruments/groupings might be available and said that she would do her best with the budget we had.

Once we were assured that we’d have musicians, Sophie and I were able to write a short description of the event to begin publicising. We had trouble coming up with a clear and succinct title for our event, so we sent a few options to MAG to be decided. On the 25 April our event was posted by MAG to Eventbrite so that guests could start booking in. They titled the event, ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music, Art and Marcel Proust’ and it was sold out within a week. We had only publicised the event on our personal Facebook walls and Twitter accounts, and MAG had not publicised the event anywhere except for the Eventbrite page. Sophie and I knew there were more than 180 people booked, but were not aware exactly how many tickets had been available and had trouble planning how to manage the size of the audience.   We had the idea to have two tour times on the night to break up the group. We asked MAG to send an email with these two tour times to the people who had booked a place, but this was not done until the day of the event, and therefore was of little help in managing the crowd.

In the weeks leading up to event Sophie and I determined the outline of the tour and assigned who would do which parts according to our own personal research interests, (i.e., I would talk on Venice and Fortuny, she would talk on Ruskin and Manchester). The week before the event I liaised with Abi to contact the specific musicians we’d be working with and decide which pieces they would be playing and where in the gallery they’d be stationed. We were very happy to have a violinist, a harpist, and a flute trio.

Sophie and I also put together the material for a simple webpage to be posted onto the MAG site, as was previously requested by MAG staff, as a way for our project to have an ‘afterlife’. This material was sent but never used, and there seemed to be some miscommunication about how the webpage would have been used.

Overall, communication with MAG during the 2 weeks leading up to the event was difficult. It seemed to be a busy time for MAG and perhaps some complications arose from our project being transferred from one staff member to another. The week of the event was quite stressful for Sophie and I as we had very little to base our expectations on and were given confusing and conflicting messages from MAG about their expectations for the event.

Sophie Preston, 1st year PhD researcher in Art History

Wendy Ligon Smith, 3rd year PhD researcher in Art History

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