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Volunteering Online for Summer in the City 2020

Summer in the City festival

After finishing my online exams on 1st June, I dreaded the lull in productivity that comes after revising intensely for weeks, and began looking for something worthwhile to do. Since all the end-of-year and graduation celebrations had been postponed, I had more spare time in June than I’d anticipated.

I’d received an email from my JCR President with an attachment that advertised various
volunteering roles for Summer in the City, something that I’d heard of before but had never
attended. Summer in the City (SitC) is Durham’s art, music, and theatre festival; a
collaboration between Durham University and Durham County Council. The cultural and
creative programme takes place throughout June and was held online this year due to the
pandemic.

As an English Literature student who also loves art, the idea of creating and writing content
to show off the university’s art collection was particularly appealing. I received an
enthusiastic response when I contacted the organisers, and was encouraged to take control of
my own creative projects.

Virtual Treasure Hunt

The first thing I did was to make a family-friendly activity which I thought I’d have enjoyed
doing myself. I’d seen that there was an Art Walk through Durham on the SitC website, and
I’d come up with the idea of getting the participant to spot certain objects or animals in an
artwork, or set of artworks, so I combined the two in a Virtual Treasure Hunt.

By listing objects which featured in paintings and drawings in several of the various online
exhibitions and the Art Collection, I thought it would be a good way of getting children and
their families to look through the SitC website, and create their own art at the same time.

Make Your Own Surrealist Art

I did a module called ‘Nonsense Literature’ this year, in which we studied Victorian nonsense
writers such as Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, and moved on to look at the legacies of
nonsense in twentieth-century literature. In one seminar, we looked at Dadaism and
Surrealism, which both intrigued and baffled me.
When I mentioned my interest in Surrealism, Emily Dowler, the Project Officer, suggested
that I might want to look at René Magritte’s painting The Blank Signature, which features in
the Durham Art Collection. I decided to create a drawing game inspired by the visually
inconsistent image of the horse and rider in a wooded glade.

When brainstorming replacements for the tree trunks in Magritte’s painting, I thought it
would be fitting to include an example from local architecture, The Count’s House, as well as
one which was most easily accessible in my lockdown environment, my stairs. I think my
example with the panda makes the staircase look like a bamboo forest.

Interviewing a local contemporary artist, Jo Stanness

Having looked through the artists displayed on the Art Collection highlights webpage, I
admired Jo Stanness’s work and thought it would be fascinating to interview her (virtually, of
course), but I wasn’t sure if it would be possible. I was delighted when Emily told me that Jo
was happy to be interviewed, and put us in touch.

We chatted via Zoom, and I discovered that Jo’s architectural cut-outs and novel-based
artworks, though externally dissimilar, are linked by her affinity for rules and other people’s
creativity.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed taking the initiative and being creative, and I’m pleased to have contributed
some material to such a well-organised and stimulating resource.

You can access the Summer in the City festival on the website.

You can see my Virtual Treasure Hunt here

‘Make Your Own Surrealist Art’ here

and my interview with Jo Stanness here.

Seraphina Monson

I’m Seraphina, a third year English Literature student at Grey College. Next year I’ll be doing an MA in English Literary Studies here at Durham. Besides my degree, I love sport, particularly lacrosse and netball, as well as formals and college events.
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