Tag Archives: Sophie Preston

‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ Reflective blog #3

‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ Reflective blog #3

By Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston

On the day

After getting little sleep the night before, the day of ‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ arrived. Wendy and I were both excited but anxious due to the gallery’s concern regarding the potential number of people set to attend the event. With 180 free tickets accounted for, MAG emailed preparing us for the worst, explaining visitors might feel underwhelmed if they could not hear or see what was happening due to throngs of visitors. We were also informed on the morning of the event, we needed to attend a meeting that afternoon. Sophie went along to this meeting and met with the team and together they discussed the format of the evening. The gallery asked if we could create a playlist and a PowerPoint presentation for the evening, Wendy and I were able to complete the latter task, but felt it was too late notice to make a playlist for the evening.

After the meeting we spent some time with Ben and Andy from Bellevue Productions who were filming the evening on behalf of Heritage Afterlife. We took the crew on a tour of the gallery, allowing them to plan their shots and were interviewed by Ben and Andy who asked us about the development of the tour. Time went quickly and the entrance foyer of the gallery soon began to fill up. Unfortunately no sign had been made by the gallery stating there would be two tours and where they would start, the visitor assistant welcoming guests was also unclear on the night’s proceedings – this was a shame as this had been discussed in the earlier meeting.

Nevertheless, all went to plan. Over 85 people assembled on the balcony and listened to the solo violinist create the right mood.  The tour then began, with Sophie welcoming the visitors and explaining the format of the tour, contextualising Proust’s relationship to Manchester and discussing the first painting. The violinist played again and the crowds filtered through into the next room where Wendy discussed Proust and Venice using the Canaletto paintings on display. Next, he harpist played three beautiful pieces and Sophie led the tour into the next room and discussed Proust’s relationship to Pre–Raphaelite art. The tour continued in the final gallery where the flute trio played and Wendy and Sophie discussed episodes of the novel using relevant art works, and finally Wendy finished the tour discussing Proust and the dress designer Mariano Fortuny, whose famous ‘delphos’ gown is on display in the gallery. We received excellent feedback after the tour and greatly enjoyed chatting  to visitors afterwards. The tours apparent success was a huge relief. We quickly composed ourselves and began the next tour with a crowd of over 45. This tour went just as well, but  we had to finish a little sooner due to the gallery needing to close. For us both, It was a wonderful evening that went far too quickly.


Working together

With having the same supervisor and similar research interests, Wendy and Sophie have been the perfect team to work on this project. Wendy, on seeing the application for an AHRC funded public engagement event asked Sophie if she would like to work together on a project. Sophie was thrilled at the opportunity and from day one, working together has been nothing but a positive experience. Wendy has taken overall charge of the event due to her experience as final year PhD researcher and Sophie feels, as only a first year PhD researcher, she has benefitted a lot from Wendy’s knowledge.  Both Wendy and Sophie wrote their own scripts, while Wendy took charge of the paperwork and organised the music for the evening. Together they created the tour’s format.

Working with the musicians

It was convenient that RNCM has an efficient program for booking musicians.  Wendy’s contact, Abigail Collins, organises the student bookings and made the process quite easy.  She gave us every confidence that the musicians would be professional quality, on time, and eager to make to contributing to making the event a success.  We signed a contract with them and specific music and dress, and timings were agreed. All of the business end of the agreement was handled with Abigail, in whom we trusted greatly, which put us at ease.

On the night the musicians were on time, friendly, prepared, and knowledgeable.  Their performances enhanced the event dramatically.  So many guests commented on their enjoyment of the music and how it was so interesting and unique to bring other senses into their experiences of visual art.  We would, without hesitation, work with these musicians and with RNCM again. It was such a positive experience.

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

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy and I have decided to propose a public engagement event inspired by the one hundredth anniversary of the first volume of French author Marcel Proust’s long novel, In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way.


As both of our PhD projects involve substantial research on the novel, we are interested in making connections between our work and the way other readers interact with the novel. Our initial idea was to create a website or blog that would curate scanned images of submitted pages of people’s copies of Swann’s Way. We hoped to attract scholars, academics, students and general readers of Proust to submit their pages.


We were interested in the traces and marks readers left when navigating the novel. Turned down pages, highlighted or underlined words or phrases, doodles, annotations etc., all evidence the lovable ardour of reading Proust and similarly mirror Proust’s own laborious writing process, made visible in the hundreds of preliminary notebooks, full of crossings out and doodled images.


After attending the first workshop defining the wider impact of PhD research and learning how to communicate this research to non-experts through cultural organisations, we were asked to choose a cultural partner. We were keen to join up with the John Rylands University Library at Deansgate. This seemed like the most pertinent choice due to the literary nature of our proposed project and as the library holds a relevant archive – that of Marie Nordlinger, a friend of Proust’s who helped him to translate works by English critic, John Ruskin.  In the archives, we hoped to find and share Nordlinger’s own responses to Proust.


After being turned down by John Rylands University Library due to the profusion of applications they had received, we were given a laurel branch when Emma Anderson, from the Manchester Museum & Galleries Partnership, asked to have a meeting with us, along with Project Leader Kostas Arvanitis . Emma and Kostas both liked the premise of celebrating the anniversary of Swann’s Way but were less keen on the blog idea in terms of a public engagement event. We had a frank discussion coming up with lots of ideas, from exhibitions to using social media. Eventually we came to a mutual decision to put on a one off event. Emma suggested the ‘Thursday Lates’ series at the Manchester Art Gallery would be an ideal arena to put on an evening celebrating the Proustian centenary. Wendy and I came away from this meeting feeling anxious but buoyant about these changes to the proposed project and got to work.


Wendy and I have since been to the Manchester Art Gallery and spent some time looking at the paintings on display. We have been excited to realise that a good deal of the works remind us of passages or themes from Proust’s novel. From here, things have really taken off.  We have enjoyed our final workshop and received invaluable advice from Emily McIntosh and Esme Ward and drafted an email to the MAG giving them a detailed plan of our proposal. We have had another meeting with Emma and have been introduced to Manchester Art Gallery Programme Assistant, Connie Witham. Together we have discussed a preliminary idea for a unique tour looking at some of the artworks on display through a Proustian lens. Due to shared enthusiasm between Wendy, Emma Connie and myself for the potential success of the event, we have been confident submitting our final proposal. We can’t wait for  ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’…

Sophie Preston, 1st year PhD researcher in Art History

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