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“It’s not just about your work, it’s about what it can bring to other people”

Tabitha Millett is a PhD candidate, and Project Leader for Queering the Art Classroom, a Student-Led Volunteering Project that gives young people at school a chance to showcase art at the National Trust.

For my PhD, I’m creating an art curriculum that encourages young people to look at gender and sexuality through art, and for them to create their own art through that. I think it’s important, because it allows them to express themselves in a way other than the written word, and I feel like art in schools represents almost an alternative space to more conservative ways of being in a school.

I wanted to create more public engagement, and I knew plenty of students who’d heard about my curriculum and wanted to get involved in some way, and working with the Volunteering Service has allowed me to achieve that.

It’s not just LGBT+ students we work with; we’re not just dealing with gender and sexuality, but also with different art practices, and trying to queer the art classroom in that way too! We don’t focus so much on “what is a lesbian” or questions like that, we want to ask what gender and sexuality are to these people. They really wanted to discuss these topics as well, because it’s something they see all the time online, but is not often talked about in school.

A lot of the pupils I work with tend to come from backgrounds who generally feel shut out from institutions like the National Trust or art galleries. So, for them to not only have access to these institutions, but to be able to display their work in these places, and for their parents to be able to see them, is really quite special. It’s also really good for visitors to the National Trust to see art and displays from groups of people usually excluded from these institutions. For me, it’s fantastic because it’s my research come to life!

I’d love to see this progress - something I’m working on for next year is adults responding to the young people’s work through art, and then getting the young people to respond to that, creating a conversation through art. It brings local artists together, and enriches the art curriculum at the same time!

I really recommend the Volunteering Service for postgraduates, because it can enhance your studies, and it’s a way for your research to have a lot more public engagement. I’ve also had a lot of art history undergraduates who’ve been really interested in this and it’s benefited them enormously, as they get experience in hanging and curating art at a prestigious institution, but it’s also a social thing for them.

Tabitha Millett

If you, like Tabitha, would like to explore your interests and/or academic studies with the local community, take a look at how you could create your own Student-Led Volunteering Project.

You can also browse other volunteering roles with museums and galleries, or placements with LGBT+ charities.