Alex Whitfield: 'Learning in Living Knowledge'
While my love of museums started from a young age (I was slightly obsessed with the netsukes at the V&A as a child) my career didn’t begin until after I completed my MA in Museum Studies at Leicester. Before then, while teaching in China, my sole museum experience was editing the labels for a new museum opening in Changzhou, then called the China Dinosaur Museum – a subject I knew very little about. After 3 years in Asia I returned specifically to do the MA, which I loved, and, as part of that undertook a placement within the Learning Team at Tate Britain. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful line manager and when some temporary work became available a few weeks after my placement ended, she offered me the job. It was a piece of work co-ordinating three BP Saturday events for the under 5s (Tiny Tate), families (Dotty Tate, Sparky Tate) and young people (Loud Tate), which I continued to work on for 5 years, moving from co-ordinating to programming the events, the latter in the partnership with Tate Forum – now Tate Collectives.
It was at this time that I also started my PhD, under Ross Parry’s brilliant tutorship. I remained in London, working on the PhD part-time, and taking on a variety of temporary, freelance projects, primarily at Tate. This included working with the Adult Programmes team on their monthly Late at Tate programme and working with Tate National on their International Programme – which included working on a small exhibition in Oman and two projects that brought groups of young curators from across the UK and the Middle East to the Sharjah Biennial and the Alexandria Bienalle.
During this time I also started working part-time at the British Library as their Learning Programmes Manager, my first permanent job. It was a tiny but extraordinary team, some of whom I still work with and who remain, 10 years later, incredibly passionate about their work. I ran the schools programme for several years, before managing the website (digital was the subject of my PhD), and then moving on to managing the team once I had finished my PhD in 2011, 3 days before the birth of my son (always loved a deadline!). Last year I became Head of Learning Programmes, and have been busy writing a new strategy for the whole of the British Library who have recently, and publicly stated their commitment to Learning in Living Knowledge. I never thought I would work anywhere for 10 years – but it’s my 11 year anniversary in April – and there is no sign of me leaving yet!