John Wood and Paul Harrison, installation view from ‘I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW IT’, Contemporary Art Gallery, February 12 – April 24, 2016. Photography by SITE Photography

Meet Melissa | Learning & Public Engagement Intern

My name is Melissa Woo and I am the Learning and Public Engagement Assistant Intern at the Contemporary Art Gallery for the summer of 2018. Currently, I am a third year Psychology major at the University of British Columbia. Throughout this experience my position has been challenging at times as my previous background is not in fine arts. However I’ve been able to gain the knowledge needed for the position by learning about the process of how an exhibition runs, the installation of artworks and information on the artists themselves. This process has been extremely rewarding.

My first co-op term did not come without surprises. During my second week at CAG I suffered an injury where I tore my ACL (a major knee ligament) while playing ultimate one evening after work. This led me to having surgery and mobility problems for the remainder of the term. Despite this unfortunate accident, I was still able to make my short four-month summer position worthwhile.

One of my most memorable parts of this position was during a Family Day event where Emily Dundas Oke, the CAG CMA-RBC Indigenous Curatorial Assistant, led a storytelling session along with a printmaking activity to encourage children to create their own stories through impressions. Although my injury left me unable to be fully active with the participants, it was still an impactful experience that led me to realize the importance of accessibility. For example, there was a little girl who dropped all her materials and looked at me for help. Even though I wanted to help her, I physically couldn’t. This situation made me glad that CAG is taking initiatives to make the gallery a welcoming and interactive place for everyone.

A lot my time at CAG was spent researching various conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s, individuals with hard of hearing and low vision. During this research I learned about social stories, which are visual stories that help children with autism or other learning disabilities to help prepare them for events which they may not be familiar with. For example, a social story could be a trip to an art gallery, helping to inform children of what sounds they might hear, what they might see, who they might interact with and where a quiet place they can go to is.

As an additional part of my internship at CAG, I also worked at the front desk once a week which helped me gain a better understanding of the gallery space. Having exposure to the three exhibitions on display, I related most to the work of Channa Horwitz. Her work was fully realized in two-dimension, however her use of the number “eight” in her practice also inspired performances, choreographed dances and musical scores. As an individual who has played piano since the age of four, growing up with music was very important to me; as such, Horwitz’s work really resonated with me.

I also took part in the installation day for the Visual Arts Summer Intensive program which was a partnered project with Arts Umbrella. Observing the meticulous process of measuring frames, artworks, and walls has made me appreciate the time and effort that is put into planning any exhibit.

This position has taught me how to use my transferable skills in research and customer service to approach unfamiliar topics such as contemporary art, as well as gaining important insights on accessibility due to my injury. The most fulfilling part of my employment was having the opportunity to be a part of the process to help engage different communities with the artwork at CAG.