Museums Work

Museums Work Blog

Starting out – an interview with Alex Woodall…

Alex Woodall

What attracts people to a career in museums or galleries? Alex Woodall is one of the Digital Access Development Officers at  Renaissance East Midlands, responsible with her colleague Sam Smith for the Museums Buddies project which includes my own research into working in museums. A few weeks ago I interviewed her about her own career, and how it all began:

‘It was sort of on purpose, and sort of by accident. My degree was in theology, and after I’d done that at Birmingham I ended up doing a Master’s in theology as well. I got to the end of that and thought “Oh my goodness, what am I going to do now? I think I’d better get a proper job, I don’t want to be a vicar or something like that”. I was in Cambridge at the time, and I applied to do a PGCE and train to be a teacher; but at the same time as doing my MPhil I went along to Kettle’s Yard, which is a beautuful house in Cambridge full of the most amazing artworks and other beautiful things, and fell in love with it.

‘I went to a sort of careers evening, and there was a person from Kettle’s Yard who said “We’d love to have some volunteers there, so would you like to come?”. So I jumped at the chance, and as it was, I had about six months of pottering time in Cambridge… waiting before I did my PGCE, so I went and basically worked pretty much full-time at Kettle’s Yard, doing all sorts of things. I did lots of education stuff. I was leading workshops and messing around with paint, and doing fun things! I was devising workshop sessions based on the Gaudier-Brzeska artworks and sculptures, and I also did stuffing envelopes… all kinds of things; and I thought “Wow, this is what I really want to be doing, it’s brilliant!”.

‘I wasn’t paid, but they gave me lunch and occasionally gave me £10 for this or that or something - so it was really nice, and lovely people; but I’d got my place on my PGCE and kind of had to do that. But all the time I was doing my PGCE in Religios Education (RE) I was thinking “I actually don’t really want to be in the classroom, I want to be doing this kind of thing… in a gallery or museum where children come along and they’re really inspired, and they’re excited because they’re out of the classroom, and there are all these wonderful objects and things all around them”.

‘So when I was doing my PGCE I tried to focus it as much as I could on objects and museums and looking at art and things. I think the rest of my course-mates thought I was a bit bonkers, because we had to do a kind of lesson to our peers and I came in with all these postcards and things which I tried to relate to philosophy and RE, and they’d all done lessons about things from the Key Stage 3 curriculum… mine was a bit abstract! [But] I enjoyed it, and it was useful doing RE because there were so many objects involved within the different world religions.

‘So I did my PGCE and got a job teaching in a school in Somerset… At the end of two years – actually, I broke my leg and I was off work for six weeks, and it was during that time that I thought “I really don’t want to go back to this. I want to be in a museum or gallery”… So while I was off I applied to do the MA at Leicester – Art Gallery Studies – and that’s where it all properly started; but it did start at Kettle’s Yard, really.   

Read more about Alex’s career in museums in future blogs, and the PhD studies that she will be starting at the University of Leicester next month. In the meantime, if you’re also working – or have worked – in the museums, galleries or heritage sector, I’d love to hear how you started your own career. And if you’d like to know more about Kettle’s Yard, see the website at