At the beginning of 2017, I proposed a research project to reflect on my experience as a technician working in contemporary art galleries. For the first couple of years of my career as a technician and art handler, I was the only woman working in this role in the city of Nottingham – at least as far as I knew back then.

I began to wonder; why are there no female art technicians? Why don’t men doing the job care? Why don’t institutions care? AN’s Artist Bursary allows me to take a step back from my day to day work environment to help me develop a network of fellow female practitioners.  I’m hoping this will lead to alternative ways of production where women are a fundamental part of the team and not just token members in a band of builders.

We need more female art directors, more representation for women artists, more women art dealers and more women technicians! This is the change I want to work towards in the art universe, but of course, this is all part of a much larger picture. We need more women in politics more feminist leadership, more women working in engineering and science, more women in construction and manual labour trades!

There isn’t a strict chronology to this blog but if you want to get the whole narrative, work your way up from the first and oldest blog post.


Doubtful about the survey and the general direction of the project beyond 2018, for my last A-N bursary mentoring session, I sat down to talk to Jenny Richards, freelance curator and writer and one half of collective Manual Labours. Manual Labours is a research project exploring physical and emotional relationships to work, initiated by Jenny Richards and Sophie Hope.

I had worked with Jennie and Sophie on their latest project Building as body, a project developed following their residency at Nottingham Contemporary where they worked with staff to explore the architecture of the workplace. Manual Labours has commissioned me and Finbar Prior to design and build a ‘Wandering Womb’ mobile kitchen unit a new mobile kitchen and staff room.

As part of the project, Manual Labours launched a new publication Building as Body: A Handbook for Investigating the Workplace. This book, to me, was a bright example of artist-led research, free of the constraints of academic research. It represents the direction I would like to take with my project. As I felt stuck with the survey I had put together previously, I asked Jenny how I should continue my investigation. ‘Use your artistic licence’ suggested Jenny, and rightly so; the questionnaire I had drafted could be the starting point of a PhD. She suggested to focus on one core question, something as simple as ‘How does it feel to be an art technician?’

My conversation with Jenny was liberating. I look forward to building on the work I had done this year and I plan for the future with enthusiasm. I will be organising my own meetups, outside of London. I will use a simplified version of my questionnaire – maybe one question from each section? – to do quick 15-minute interviews with other art technicians. I will continue to travel to meet more people in places I hadn’t been able to visit yet; Bristol, Glasgow.

I will continue posting about developments in the project in a new blog. Watch this space for news in 2019!


I developed this survey as a way to formalise the conversations I have had during my research project. I want to capture different perspectives and experiences in order to develop a more robust approach to improving the workplace and support structures of female art technicians.

You can view an unfinished version of the survey HERE. Please note that this is a working process and a steep learning curve for me so if you have suggestions, get in touch.

When writing the questionnaire I took into consideration the approaches and methods of the studies listed below.  I decided to structure my questionnaire into three parts. The first section, containing questions about an individual’s job, and work organisation; the second, ‘Training & development’ asks about career development, training needs, the third part asks about one’s professional community and support structures at and outside of work. There is also an ‘About you’ section, determining the demographics of the participants.

I was able to receive valuable feedback from a professional researcher – thanks to Art Tech Space for the connection – who advised me on how to develop the questionnaire and research methodology further. Although the questionnaire, even in its current draft stage seems like significant progress into the direction of formalising my exploration, something still makes me feel unsure about whether it’s the right tool to build the project.

As I had no previous experience of conducting a survey, first I looked at similar research done about the museum and gallery sector and/or about workplace satisfaction and organisation specifically. This was quite exciting as I had learnt a lot of new terms and approaches to research. I was an absolute beginner, so terms like ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ research were quite new to me.  I had also developed an understanding of different aspects of work organisation and workplace satisfaction. I wanted to measure the psychosocial work exposure to measure how much control individuals have over their work and what support structures they have access to at work and outside of the workplace.

These are some of the studies I had looked at:

Ergonomic Conditions and Health at Gender Segregated Workplaces, Lena Karlqvist and Gunvor Gard, 2012

Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum Workforce, BOP Consulting with The Museum Consultancy, 2016

Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Roger Schonfeld, Mariët Westermann, with Liam Sweeney, 2015

Birmingham Production Space, Survey Results, 2014


Following my visit to The Women’s Art Library, this strand of the research project was somewhat overshadowed by attending meetups and workshops. It was surprisingly challenging to organise library visits to fit around these other occasions that brought me down to London.

On my first visit to the Feminist Library, I found only closed doors (I naively thought that someone might be around outside of the restricted opening hours). A different time, I had factored in a visit to The Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, buy left disappointed; in order to gain access to their collections, I had to submit an online application, which takes them five days to process. Slightly unprepared perhaps, I wasn’t always able to coordinate these visits as smoothly as I wanted to.

In June, I had finally cut some time out to revisit The Feminist Library (this time within opening hours!), where I had hoped to find books relating to women working in non-traditional occupations.

The Feminist Library is home to a large collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature and has been a hotbed of feminist research, activist and community projects since 1975. In 2015 The library celebrated 40 years of archiving and activism. They are totally volunteer run and today they represent one of the most important collections of feminist material in all of the UK.

I arrived at the library’s Westminster Bridge Road residence not quite sure if I would find what I was looking for. After walking up to the second floor of the Multipurpose Resource Centre, I finally stepped into the library; a repurposed office space filled full of books and boxes with more books inside, zines lining shelves from floor to ceiling.

I was welcomed by one of the friendly volunteers who gave me a quick tour of the premises and asked whether I had any specific interests. To my relief, the library had a whole section of books about women and work, with some books specifically about female manual labour and women in non-traditional trades. Most of the literature I found there was printed in the 80s, as illustrated by probably the most relevant find; Hard-hatted women: stories of struggle and success in the trades (1988), edited by Molly Martin.


The librarian – I regret not remembering her name so much! – had also introduced me to a couple of local initiatives who work along similar interests, including the Power Project based at the Livesey Exchange and HI-VIS, a feminist design and architecture collective. Both of these organisations deserve separate blog posts in the future.

Nevertheless, I left the library feeling frustrated. This time, not because I couldn’t find anything, but because I hadn’t given myself enough time to explore. I realised that developing this strand of my project, just like building up a network would take much longer than I had anticipated.

Note: THE FEMINIST LIBRARY IS MOVING! They urgently need to raise the funds necessary for the move and to function beyond spring 2019. Find out more at their crowdfunder page.


If you work as an art technician, you are part of a fairly new and growing trade, which wasn’t as prominent twenty years ago, as it is today. I wanted to connect the trends visible in today’s art tech scene into a wider context in order to gain perspective and draw ideas from parallel narratives. Did many female artists work as art technicians thirty, fifty years ago? Have women in other manual trades gone through a similar struggle to ours? Are there other trades that are going through a transformation today to diversify their workforce?

These and similar questions led me to the specialised collections of first, the Women’s Art Library, housed at Goldsmiths Library and to London’s Feminist Library at their old headquarters on Westminster Bridge Road – read about my visit to the later in the following blog post, above.

The Women’s Art Library (WAL) started as an artists’ initiative which has grown into a collection of unique documentation of work by women artists dating back to the 1980s. From slides to exhibition posters, from manifestos to full-colour monographs, WAL houses hundreds of artefacts and ephemera.

I met the collection’s curator and archivist Althea Greenan on a spring afternoon to visit the collection and to talk to Althea about any relevant resources at the library for my project.  Althea had led me through the small reading room, into the collection room lined by rows of modern archival filing cabinets; pulling out handwritten notes and feminist exhibition posters from the 80s.

When I had introduced my interests to Althea about female art technicians, she admitted that she wasn’t able to recall specific items in the collection that would be relevant, but remarked that for a while after college, she too, worked as a painter and decorator as it was good money at the time. This personal story brought a smile to my face, but when I left after an hour an a half long conversation, I wasn’t sure if I was going to find relevant literature anywhere else if I hadn’t been able to find anything here.