‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ Reflective blog #3
By Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston
On the day
After getting little sleep the night before, the day of ‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ arrived. Wendy and I were both excited but anxious due to the gallery’s concern regarding the potential number of people set to attend the event. With 180 free tickets accounted for, MAG emailed preparing us for the worst, explaining visitors might feel underwhelmed if they could not hear or see what was happening due to throngs of visitors. We were also informed on the morning of the event, we needed to attend a meeting that afternoon. Sophie went along to this meeting and met with the team and together they discussed the format of the evening. The gallery asked if we could create a playlist and a PowerPoint presentation for the evening, Wendy and I were able to complete the latter task, but felt it was too late notice to make a playlist for the evening.
After the meeting we spent some time with Ben and Andy from Bellevue Productions who were filming the evening on behalf of Heritage Afterlife. We took the crew on a tour of the gallery, allowing them to plan their shots and were interviewed by Ben and Andy who asked us about the development of the tour. Time went quickly and the entrance foyer of the gallery soon began to fill up. Unfortunately no sign had been made by the gallery stating there would be two tours and where they would start, the visitor assistant welcoming guests was also unclear on the night’s proceedings – this was a shame as this had been discussed in the earlier meeting.
Nevertheless, all went to plan. Over 85 people assembled on the balcony and listened to the solo violinist create the right mood. The tour then began, with Sophie welcoming the visitors and explaining the format of the tour, contextualising Proust’s relationship to Manchester and discussing the first painting. The violinist played again and the crowds filtered through into the next room where Wendy discussed Proust and Venice using the Canaletto paintings on display. Next, he harpist played three beautiful pieces and Sophie led the tour into the next room and discussed Proust’s relationship to Pre–Raphaelite art. The tour continued in the final gallery where the flute trio played and Wendy and Sophie discussed episodes of the novel using relevant art works, and finally Wendy finished the tour discussing Proust and the dress designer Mariano Fortuny, whose famous ‘delphos’ gown is on display in the gallery. We received excellent feedback after the tour and greatly enjoyed chatting to visitors afterwards. The tours apparent success was a huge relief. We quickly composed ourselves and began the next tour with a crowd of over 45. This tour went just as well, but we had to finish a little sooner due to the gallery needing to close. For us both, It was a wonderful evening that went far too quickly.
With having the same supervisor and similar research interests, Wendy and Sophie have been the perfect team to work on this project. Wendy, on seeing the application for an AHRC funded public engagement event asked Sophie if she would like to work together on a project. Sophie was thrilled at the opportunity and from day one, working together has been nothing but a positive experience. Wendy has taken overall charge of the event due to her experience as final year PhD researcher and Sophie feels, as only a first year PhD researcher, she has benefitted a lot from Wendy’s knowledge. Both Wendy and Sophie wrote their own scripts, while Wendy took charge of the paperwork and organised the music for the evening. Together they created the tour’s format.
Working with the musicians
It was convenient that RNCM has an efficient program for booking musicians. Wendy’s contact, Abigail Collins, organises the student bookings and made the process quite easy. She gave us every confidence that the musicians would be professional quality, on time, and eager to make to contributing to making the event a success. We signed a contract with them and specific music and dress, and timings were agreed. All of the business end of the agreement was handled with Abigail, in whom we trusted greatly, which put us at ease.
On the night the musicians were on time, friendly, prepared, and knowledgeable. Their performances enhanced the event dramatically. So many guests commented on their enjoyment of the music and how it was so interesting and unique to bring other senses into their experiences of visual art. We would, without hesitation, work with these musicians and with RNCM again. It was such a positive experience.