Changes are afoot at the RWA…hats have been swapped!

Written by Gill Elcoate

Those usually found organising exhibitions have been asked (nicely) to move over whilst the Front of House (FOH) team, led by Steph Garratt (Market Assistant, FOH Supervisor and artist) and Sienna Wells (FOH Supervisor and artist) take over the curating, and creation of an RWA’s staff exhibition. And the result of this peaceful revolution? In true RWA tradition, another spectacular, professional exhibition of incredible and thought-provoking art.

Running from 7 November 2023 to 7 January 2024, the exhibition, entitled Also Artists: A Staff Exhibition, will highlight the remarkable diversity and talents of our in-house and associated artists, skills often hidden behind daily roles, and away from the gallery. This exhibition seeks to expose not only the sheer number of professional artists, and creatives hidden away in the various recesses of the organisation, but also to bring to light the real enthusiasm for the arts that exists within the whole of the RWA team. In response to this aim, eighty works from forty-three members of the RWA team will be shown and include works from the FOH team, the Drawing School tutors, the office team, curators, freelance technicians, and workshop facilitators.

In preparation for this splendid uprising, I spoke to a few of those involved concerning the significance of art in their daily lives and why this exhibition was so important not simply from a personal point of view but also for the RWA and wider community. These musings revealed a kaleidoscope of talent and expertise and, as impressively, a team fully committed through an incredible shared passion to open the arts to all. 

Medi Jones-Williams – Previously a volunteer, now a member of the FOH team and Artist.

Medi Jones-Williams, Creation Myth, Mixed Media

“My background is in Classical Art and Archaeology. Most recently I completed an MPHIL and am currently working toward a PHD. I am a practicing artist, and have created two collages for the exhibition...they are an allegory, a representation of the creation of womenkind through what was considered a traditionally feminine medium. Collages are fun and accessible to anyone with access to scrap materials as costs can be minimal. From a personal point of view the exhibition has renewed my sense of creativity, this is important as often this process gets lost after childhood as the responsibilities of adulthood distract us. 

My aim is to move into curating at Museums and so my involvement in this exhibition will help develop numerous transferable skills both for my current role and future roles. There are so many benefits for the staff, the RWA, and the wider public. There is the opportunity to see colleagues in a new light and to see how diverse and passionate they are in their artwork. I hope that the exhibition will encourage others to be creative and to get crafty.”

Like Medi, countless former and current art students seek work within the arts sector, not only to bolster their income as artists but also to develop their working practice in an atmosphere they find stimulating and instructive.

Laura Hartfield, FOH Supervisor, temporary FOH Coordinator, and Artist.

Laura Hartfield, Mushrooms of Tring Park, Watercolour

“Following a degree in Fine Arts I moved to Bristol to follow my love of the arts and to find work within the arts industry. I have two works in the exhibition, a photograph and a painting, as although predominately a painter, work for my final degree show allowed for experimentation in other fields. My pieces are similar in style, reflecting my love of the Old Dutch Masters.
I have been drawing since school and see myself as an artist first. My mission is to further my career as an artist but fully understand the difficulties of surviving as a full-time artist. This exhibition will enable me to show my work for the first time properly in Bristol, and the opportunity to do so at the RWA gives all involved the opportunity to sell to an established audience. It also offers a great way to strengthen links with team members. To discover each other’s creative processes and ultimately develop the behind-the-scenes skills necessary to further our roles.
 I feel this staff exhibition will bring benefits to both the staff and the RWA, through conversation with peers and a broader audience. The skills developed will make the staff a more skilled and flexible workforce, whilst the mentoring and support by those with more experience in the field fosters new contacts and links. I see the exhibition as a celebration of all the great skills sometimes hidden away within the RWA"


Not all those involved in the exhibition would consider themselves practicing artists, but all remain equally committed to developing in the arts both for personal growth and the wider community.

Bogdana Katarzhuk – previously a volunteer now a FOH team member.

 “Affected by the war in Ukraine, I had to make the decision to move for the safety of myself and my child. I was previously a lawyer but wanting to follow my passion for the arts, I embraced the enforced move, took several curating courses, and in February of this year curated an exhibition in Rome before moving to Bristol. Although not a practicing artist, the exhibition provides another opportunity to develop my curating skills whilst also offering a great opportunity to get to know other members of staff. I was also unaware previously of the quality of the artists here, and I believe it is so important to have exhibits such as this so work is not kept hidden.”

Managing this exhibition naturally necessitated developing and boosting many new and existing skills. Fortunately, the RWA has a host of extremely well-versed and knowledgeable staff members, and associates always willing to offer support and encouragement. (Indeed, some have been in the building so long they have attained the mystical status of the ravens at the Tower of London…mentioning no names Tristan Pollard (Curatorial and Technical Manager, and artist)).

Regardless of role and longevity of service however their ponderings continue to echo the collective spirit and remain fully aligned with those who have had to date far more modest RWA careers!

Ben Rowe – Facilities Manager, Artist, and recent professional member of the Royal Society of Sculpture.

Ben Rowe, Barranger, Brass

“I work with various mediums but always in wood, and more recently with the incorporation of brass. I do have a piece in the exhibition but am perhaps more excited about the opportunity the exhibition offers for other staff members to showcase their hidden talents. My role within the exhibition is mainly one of support, as along with Tristan, we have a wealth of experience and experiences we are very happy to share. We will be supporting the hanging but will be allowing Sienna to take the lead.
My route into my role was led by the wish to work in the technical elements of a gallery, so after leaving University I took an internship at Spike Island, another local gallery, having previously worked there as an odd job person. I believe this exhibition will give the more junior staff the same benefits as my internship, the opportunity to gain genuine hands-on experience. From a gallery perspective, the RWA’s backing of the exhibition shows its support for their staff, an important message for those involved and the wider community.”


Hemali Modha - Marketing Manager and Artist.

Hemali Modha, Bourgainvillia 1Ink, gesso, cold wax, and pencil on yupo and board 

“Having run various businesses and studied Fine Arts, I decided to take a role in a sector I love, where I am able to use skills amassed over years to support my passion in promoting the arts… an ideal job in an ideal sector. I want to see a wider and more diverse community in all galleries, and this was my opportunity to make it happen at the RWA.
I have three artworks in the exhibition, and they reflect the influence of, and my wish to, explore the natural world. This need to explore is also expressed in my exploration of materials, giving my work an abstracted basis. Excitingly one of my works has been selected for the poster advertising the exhibition.”
The exhibition poster, which uses Hemali's artwork, was created by Ellika Larsson (Volunteer Co-Ordinator, artist, and exhibiter)  
Hemali continues,
“The exhibition is a great way to show the diversity of staff within the RWA. For the staff, this is an amazing opportunity to work together and the RWA is well placed to allow this experience. There is so much expertise that staff members can share, equally staff feel that their skills as artists have been acknowledged and celebrated. The staff exhibition does actively promote access to art for those involved and those visiting the gallery.”

Finally, I managed to grab one of our Drawing School tutors, another voice recognising and supporting the genuine passion to be found behind the doors of the RWA.

Sean Julian - A professional children’s book illustrator working with both UK and International publishers, and a Drawing School tutor at the RWA.

Sean Julian, The Selfish Dragon, Acrylic, pastel and pencil

“I have two artworks in the exhibition, demonstrating two different styles of illustration. I feel the benefit of such an exhibition is the opportunity to show the variety of work and skill sets of the people working within the RWA. There is such a diverse group of people working here, all offering unique talents and experiences to those looking around the gallery. The staff are knowledgeable, and this exhibition highlights this fact.

 From a personal point of view, this exhibition will allow me to show original pieces of artwork on the wall. It is so important to show artwork as too often work simply gets stored. This exhibition therefore offers the perfect opportunity for artists, regardless of experience, to mix and share their work; and for the RWA, this visibility of skills, and experience can only encourage confidence with the public regarding the staff’s commitment and expertise"

Also Artists: A Staff Exhibition can be found in the Link Gallery and corridor on the Lower Ground Floor of the RWA from 7 November 2023 to 7 January 2024. Entry is FREE. Many of the artworks are for sale, and the FOH team will be more than happy to help you with any purchase… wearing their other hat!

Gill Elcoate – once volunteer, now FOH team member, and a part-time student (still) at Oxford University studying the History of Art.