After studying Ancient History, Anthropology, and Archaeology for her Bachelor of Arts at The University of Queensland, Sheryn Smith completed a Graduate Certificate of Museum Studies at Deakin University. Her diverse career has included roles as Collection Curator at the Glenelg Shire Council, Assistant Registrar at Australian Performing Arts Collection at Arts Centre Melbourne, and Collection Manager Off-Site Store at the National Gallery of Victoria. Prior to joining the UQ Art Museum team, Sheryn was Collections Officer at the QUT Art Museum. We asked Sheryn some of our burning questions about her previous experiences in registration, the role she now holds as Senior Registrar, and her advice for students looking to break into the field.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what sparked your interest in the registration field?
A: I have always been fascinated by ancient cultures, particularly their art and architecture. This led me to study Ancient History, Archaeology, and Anthropology at The University of Queensland. Through my studies I realised I wanted to work in museums and galleries, so I moved to Melbourne to undertake Museum Studies at Deakin University. At the time, few Museum Studies courses were available in Australia.
It was during this time I started working at the National Gallery of Victoria and gained my first experience in registration. I was part of a team employed to pack and relocate the NGV collection from off-site storage to the newly renovated NGV: International. While I hadn’t sought out a career in registration, I soon realised that with my love of lists, processes, and working closely with the collection, registration was where I belonged.
Q: For anyone unfamiliar with the details of the job, can you explain the kind of work the Senior Registrar at an Art Museum is responsible for and how this role contributes to the day-to-day running of the UQ Art Museum?
A: Registration is the department that manages and works most closely with the artworks. This includes artworks owned by the University, as well as artworks on loan to us from private and institutional lenders, both within Australia and internationally.
Through administrative processes, we document, track, and record the lifecycle of the artworks. We also assess risk and use preventative conservation techniques like environmental controls and recommended handling and storage techniques to ensure the artworks are preserved for future generations. Providing access to the Collection, through exhibitions, loans to other galleries, the on-campus program, and the Collection Study Room, is another important aspect of registration.
As Senior Registrar, I work closely with all Art Museum staff to establish timelines, work priorities, and advise on registration recommendations. I also lead the Registration team to coordinate these activities and ensure all the work we undertake meets professional standards.
Q: Now that you’re a month into the job, what are you most looking forward to at UQ Art Museum?
A: The University of Queensland has an amazing art collection and I’m excited to learn all about it. Working in registration allows you to experience the artworks on an intimate level; you physically touch the works and see all the parts hidden from public view. You learn the history and story of the artwork and the artist.
The joy of working with different art collections is that I’m constantly learning about past, present, and emerging artists and I love that. Essentially, I’m living within an art history lesson.
Q: For students interested in a future career in registration, what would your top tip be for getting a foothold into the field?
A: My top tip for getting a foothold into registration is through volunteering. This is an area of arts management that relies heavily on on-the-job training. By volunteering, you can begin this training and gain a more accurate understanding of the work involved.
My experiences volunteering as a student at UQ’s RD Milns Antiquities Museum and Anthropology Museum provided the foundation for my employment within registration at the National Gallery of Victoria.