‘I learned about the importance of team work, not just in a hackneyed sense but in the actual reality of shared ownership- shared consequences’
Sam Met, Surface Cartography

I’m glad I came to celebrate with the Surface Gallery on the evening of their tenth anniversary. After all I could have visited the exhibition the following week; during the day. That Friday night there was a definite buzz which the cocktails couldn’t have been wholly responsible for. If I’d come during the day I would have missed something crucial: the volunteers.

Created in 1999 by a group of Nottingham Trent graduates, the Surface Gallery has come a long way since, undergoing a change of name (as part of a rebranding process) and a change of venue. Dedicated to the development of people wishing to work in the arts, a field ‘notoriously difficult’ to gain employment in, the gallery has survived by enlisting a long line of dedicated volunteers- some who have been and gone, and some who remain as long serving veterans.

Laura Jade Klee is one of the volunteers who helps to bring the Surface Gallery alive. Working at the gallery for six months for six hours per week, Laura is involved with marketing, administration and invigilation. “It’s wonderful that everyone’s celebrating” Laura said, “I definitely feel a part of the team. Everyone shares a passion for the gallery, and it’s always constantly on my mind because there’s always so much going on”.

Comprising of artwork from volunteers at the Surface Gallery, the exhibition was an eclectic mix of work, ranging from installations and video work to paintings and pop up fudge boxes. It seemed to accurately represent the different mixture of people working there. Rebecca Ganbele, development coordinator for the gallery confirmed this impression, “We attract a wide variety of people” she said, “from people who study English and history to science and engineering”. Ganbele’s work ‘cup cake messaging system’ was a practical demonstration of how art can be altered as people engage with it. After asking volunteers to text a birthday message for the gallery to her, Ganbele printed off words from these messages onto edible paper and decorated cupcakes with them. Visitors to the gallery could then rearrange the cakes; creating an entirely new set of messages again, and allowing the gallery to document audience responses.

In the entrance lobby, ‘Surface Cartography’ focused on the geographical diversity of the gallery, pinpointing where individual volunteers lived, and inviting them to answer questions like ‘what did you learn from your time at Surface?’ and ‘what are you doing now?’Each of these responses only highlighted how valuable their experience at the Surface Gallery had been. Volunteers had progressed to numerous jobs from ‘teaching graphic design’ to ‘working in ‘retail and PR’. It seems that one thing is clear: everyone benefits. Whilst the commitment of the volunteers has allowed the Surface Gallery to develop successfully, the gallery has also given them the chance of a promising future.

Anne Moore

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