Alumni Stories- Mia Shirreffs

‘There has been a greater emphasis on digitising collections and online museum experiences, so there will be a greater demand for graduates with advanced digital skills.’

Name: Mia Shirreffs

Current Career: Exhibition Coordinator at the National Gallery of Ireland

Discipline: Visual Culture

What career path did you want to follow as a child? 

My mother is an artist and art teacher, so I grew up around art and went to a lot of museums and galleries as a child. I always wanted to work in something creative, but I didn’t really think about studying visual art until later in life. 

Why did you decide to study at National College of Art & Design?

I had heard how unique a college NCAD is, and it’s city centre-based, which was where I wanted to be at the time. When I heard about the variety of subjects covered by the Visual Culture course – art history, curation, publishing, media, digital culture, design, fashion and architectural history – I thought it would be an opportunity to explore different areas of art in order to figure out which vocation to focus on.

How did you develop your career towards your current job / practice?

I had the opportunity to work at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) while at NCAD, where I received a lot of exposure to the art world and the different artists and organisations working in Ireland. 

I then did my Masters in Arts Management and Cultural Policy after college and was researching documentation and collection studies at the time. I applied for a work placement at the Collections Department of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) and then worked in a full-time position there. IMMA rotates their collection through temporary displays, so that gave me great experience in assisting with organising exhibitions and working with a variety of artists. 

The experience I got at the RHA and IMMA was essential when I started working at the National Gallery of Ireland in the Exhibitions and Collection Services Department. My role involves project managing and organising our diverse programme of temporary exhibitions, as well as coordinating exhibitions which showcase artworks from the Gallery’s permanent collection, loans from other museums, galleries, private collections and artworks by contemporary artists. 

What is the one experience during your time at NCAD that has informed you most in your career / work to date?

The critical discussions we had at NCAD about artists, artworks, theories, collections and institutions were so insightful, particularly in group settings where you are exposed to many different ideas and perspectives. The lecturers and tutors at NCAD have such a wealth of knowledge and directed us towards concepts and practices which allowed us to develop our skills in understanding and interpreting visual culture. Understanding the difficulties and issues within the art world, but also learning how to navigate them, was an essential part of my experience at NCAD.

If you were chatting with current NCAD students today what is the one piece of advice you would offer?

If you want to achieve something, don’t let the sometimes-daunting task ahead of you scare you into giving up. Remember that you have an incredible set of options in front of you studying at NCAD. If you take a closer look and reach out to talk to people working in the arts, you’ll see that there are a huge number of opportunities. Know how to use your contacts well - networking is not always easy, but it’s necessary.

Given the global turmoil and change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, what in your opinion are the opportunities for those in creative industries?

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in cultural institutions. There was a myriad of ways to experience the arts online during the crisis, with online exhibitions, events and talks. I think we are going to see a much greater diversity of voices in the arts over the next few years due to that digital shift, which could reinvigorate the arts and offer innovative and more engaging programming. 

There has also been a greater emphasis on digitising collections and online museum experiences, so there will be a greater demand for graduates with advanced digital skills. 

The phrase ‘sustainability’ is thrown around a lot these days, but the pandemic really did highlight for many of those working in the creative industries, how their institutions impact on the environment. I think we are seeing a greater consciousness of, and commitment to, building sustainability in the sector now.