Volunteer Story: Suzanne

Volunteer Suzanne in a Talking Life, Talking Art session

“I absolutely love it. It is the highlight of my month!”

I haven’t always been interested in art and I cannot paint for toffee but about eight years ago I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which, unusually, doesn’t label its paintings. Feeling completely lost I took a tour and the guide was fantastic. She encouraged us to make our own responses and trust them. From that moment I was hooked and my interest in art increased.

Galleries are assumed to be quiet places of individual contemplation. Nothing wrong with that but I think they can also be powerful places of communal sharing. I’ve always found it more illuminating to look at art with other people; the more eyes, brains, hearts and experiences the better.

I approached Museums Sheffield with an idea. I wanted to do a tour similar to what I had seen at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Rather than impart information I wanted to ask those who came about what they see and their thoughts and feelings in response to a piece. I wanted to make the gallery noisy! I was petrified before it started. I wondered if I would make an idiot of myself or been shown up as severely lacking in art-historical knowledge.

The Talking Life, Talking Art session has been going for three years. The numbers have increased over that time and we’ve started doing the odd after-hours session. I absolutely love it. It is the highlight of my month. I meet the most amazing people and am privileged to hear the most amazing stories. I never fail to see an artwork in a new way because of something a visitor has said. We’ve talked about all sorts of things from ancestry, bodies and health, love and nature. It seems to be a safe, accepting space whoever comes. 

My experience of volunteering has taught me a number of things. Firstly, if you have an idea, ask. Who knows what will come of it? Secondly, the artwork in Graves belongs to us all in Sheffield so how about we use it to inspire us? Thirdly, people are like paintings; they are wonderful and revelatory. Lastly, yes some things are new and a little scary but life is more exciting if you take the odd risk. 

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