Notes on Episode 4 of the Cultural Peeps Podcast: Emma Thomas
Emma Thomas is the General Manager of Seaton Delaval Hall and is part of a team overseeing not only the conservation of the Baroque Hall, but also the woodland and surrounding landscape at this National Trust property.
This conversation took place in July 2018 on the eve of Seaton Delaval Hall successfully securing a £3.7 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which, combined with £3 million of National Trust’s money aims to bring new life to the site for visitors and the local community.
I first met Emma back in the Spring of 2002. I’d applied (through my MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies at Newcastle University) to undertake an 8-week work placement with the Learning Team at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead (which Emma was then leading).
The placement ran between May and June, with the opening of BALTIC due to take place in July and it was an incredible experience for me. I went on to work at BALTIC in a number of different roles for the next 4 years!
Emma has had a fascinating career trajectory and I wanted to include her in the project because of the way in which she has selected and applied for different roles and jobs at different institutions, from her initial voluntary work at Tate St Ives through her work with the Learning Team at Modern Art Oxford, then Liverpool Biennial before joining BALTIC.
Emma has also had a number of prominent roles on various organisational Boards – from Engage – the lead advocacy and training network for gallery education. NSEAD, The National Society for education in Art and Design and Northern Architecture.
A recurring feature of Emma’s career is the initiation or taking on of large-scale projects. Her work at the Liverpool Biennale saw her working with a huge number of stakeholders, so not just artists and audiences but also council members, emergency services staff and building owners, as the Bienniale works with many partners in complex and often challenging ways across the city.
Similarly, her work at Baltic covered the initial development of the Learning Programme over the phenomenally busy opening period in July 2002, and then the redevelopment and transformation of the Level 2 staff space into ‘Quay’ a learning space for visitors, schools and families in 2007. That project was funded by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation and again reinforces an ongoing theme of this series which is the importance of developing and maintain contacts.
There are a number of smaller themes that emerged in the conversation that I think are really useful to listen out for – these include: Identifying and knowing when you are ready to leave an organisation or move on to a new challenge. This is something Emma did when she moved across from BALTIC to the National Trust in 2017. And also learning how to grab an opportunity when it presents itself, so you’ll hear in the conversation how Emma has repeatedly grasped and explored different opportunities to help her define her career pathway and shape her own principles.
A quick last point – since this recording Emma’s role has been made permanent, which is great news!
Links to Podcast content:
Seaton Delaval Hall:
Seaton Delaval Hall Redevelopment: Heritage Lottery Fund helps put the drama back into Seaton Delaval Hall (Article):
Tate St Ives:
Museum of Modern Art Oxford:
The Bluecoat (Liverpool):
Quay at Baltic:
learning on the frontline: http://balticplus.uk/baltic-learning-on-the-frontline-c21169/
St Mary’s Heritage Centre:
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