In our latest blog Rebecca tells us about her Front of House – Kickstart role at the Cartoon Museum.
Tell us about your role
Being in a small team, I have to be ready to take on 1 or 2 new things every so often (which is certainly a lesson in spontaneity!) I have a lot of responsibilities within my role, which is why I actually share my job role with my colleague, Hannah!
I would say my role entails three main sections:
Front of House Management:
- Opening and Closing Site
- Ensuring that everything on the ‘Duty Manager’ list has been signed off, including: sanitising the site, checking fire exits, checking the Museum’s main email at certain increments, maintaining the float, taking bins out, essentially looking after the site!
- Looking after our volunteers who are usually much more capable than me, which makes my job easier!
- Packaging and mailing orders from the online shop
- Pricing stock
- Making the shop look pretty with cool signs and displays
- Taking photos of stock for the online shop and editing them in Photoshop
- Organising events, sometimes multiple at once, including: talks, awards events, parties etc.
- Going to fairs and conventions to advertise and engage with the public about The Cartoon Museum
Typically with events, Hannah and I work on these together and I naturally gravitate towards scheduling meetings, errands to grab materials, organising information; this is what I am naturally comfortable with and it is the best middle ground between pushing myself and having accommodations in place to truly utilise my strengths. I am attempting to improve my skills in networking but this is still very new to me. When it’s of utmost importance, I feel so intimidated by people!!
Speaking of accommodations, a usual part of a role like mine would be Fire Marshal duty, however, this is something that I am not responsible for as fire alarms trigger my audio sensitivities. I am fully aware of knowing that I would not be capable during a fire because of an autistic shutdown, I would just rather not risk endangering people in a pursuit of masking my incapability, this entire revelation has been a step in accepting that I just can’t do some things.
Why did you want to work at the Cartoon Museum?
I have been well acquainted with museums since I was young, relatives working in museums around London as well as frequently visiting them for both hobby and academic purposes. Whenever I went to a museum, it would always feel like a surreal out-of-body experience although now I know it was simply processing all of the creative inspiration! With jobs usually being inaccessible to Autistic Folk, I knew that if I needed a job, I wanted to work in a museum as it was familiar to me…
…So then I was job hunting for a long… long time, having no clue about the future due to a previously rejected university application to a Concept and Comic Art Degree. At this point I am convinced that I will never find a job because every time I mention my Autism diagnosis, the air just slightly changes. Sceptical, I decided that I would stop job hunting, or at least minimise it. Until one job role came up for a “Front of House Assistant – The Cartoon Museum” and all hell broke loose. Perfect Role? Perfect location? The Cartoon Museum? Literally within the discipline I wish to go into? Yeah I desperately wanted this job, it was a ‘this job or no job at all’ mentality because what could beat this?
I think what solidified my interest in the role was the job interview. For context, I hate interviews. As well as that, I was heavily considering keeping my Autistic Identity hidden and just masking my way through a 6 month role. Certainly all of that went through the window when I found out that… their entire work this year is Autistic Outreach… in my head I was just going “I’m autistic!!” like an alarm was going off in my head, but more of a Samsung Ringtone kind of alarm, where it’s all magical and serene.
I was perfect for this, I had a purpose here and that was to be an Autistic voice within the team (such a small and cosy team by the way, and everyone is so nice!!). To top it all off, Holly and Amba, who interviewed me at the time, were so relatable and we essentially had an entire chat for ages about how bad our memories were, it’s something that still sticks with me even whilst still in the role. I knew that if I did not get this role that it was all over, but thankfully I was emailed the next day with the role right in my hands.
How did you find out about the opportunity?
For a while I was on Universal Credit, I believe I was on it for around a year and a half. It was a long time of applying to Kickstart Roles (these in particular due to the part-time hours being much more accessible) and somehow never having enough experience, ironically, for a scheme that was meant to be catered towards those with minimum experience…
I decided to volunteer at another gallery, Camden Arts Centre, as a Gallery Assistant. I was fortunate enough to have connections from past Work Experience jobs during school, and the volunteering application was very accessible for an Autistic person. I would volunteer every Saturday for 4 hours (including lunch) within the Gallery Space. They send over emails to volunteers every month with updates and job opportunities and I saw the role there. Truly perfect all around! So as soon as I started the job application process I hounded the Visitor Assistants to give me more tasks related to this job role, and I believe that it solidified the chances of getting this job.
What have you been getting up to in your role?
Every month is hectic and full of new tasks and events, and that’s just within my specific role. I would like to say that the first month was as relaxing as a boat on calm waters, but this is the Museum Sector we are talking about! My focus so far during my placement has been Shop Management. Mostly learning the pipeline between stock being delivered and uploading the products on the website. Naturally, I gravitated towards this side of the museum as I wish to sell my own work one day
Here and there, I have been giving small snippets of input into our ever-developing ‘Relaxed Mondays’ as well as general day-to-day changes to make the Cartoon Museum easier to visit for Autistic people. During my role I have assisted a few families and Autistic Individuals with their visit here, examples including reducing the volume on some exhibition videos (the easiest to modify is the video showcasing our Online Exhibition Catalyst) as well as turning down the spotlights in our Learning Clore and In-focus exhibition space. Whenever we sanitise the toilets I ensure that we do not use any strong smelling sprays in the disabled toilets either as to help those with smell sensitivities (me included!)
I have had the opportunity to represent the Cartoon Museum at many places, including the Heath Robinson 150th Anniversary Fair, London Film and Comic Con, The Illustrators Fair and more! These off site opportunities have allowed me to network with other artists but also strengthen my skills in talking to the public and knowing which products to sell at which events. On-site events have also been really cool, meeting Max Howard, an absolute giant in the animation industry was certainly an out of body experience.
Recently I have been given the opportunity to illustrate an accessibility comic for the museum. This is targeted towards Autistic Folk (with co-occurring conditions as well) who need help in accessing the Cartoon Museum. The guide starts from booking a ticket online at home to packing a bag, to showing the most accessible tube station and so on! This also includes our new sensory backpacks as well!
Overall I have been able to slowly gravitate towards Autistic-related activities in the museum, which I am extremely grateful for. Having the chance to put my own mark on things here has been great.
What have you been enjoying?
If I had to explain everything that I would be enjoying, this would be an entire dissertation! So I will talk about 3 things I enjoy:
The first is that obviously, I love comics. I will be studying them at University. I want to make comics as my career. Being surrounded by comics? It is the perfect environment, the one job where doodling during work is encouraged! Being able to engage in my most defining special interest truly makes work more engaging and something to not dread, and the Cartoon Museum really understand that and play on people’s strengths.
Secondly, it is almost ironic at times that I don’t have a problem when it comes to face-to-face conversations with the public, in fact I would say this is where I shine when I know exactly what I am doing. I was non-speaking until I was 5 years old and now I can’t shut up (of course in the exception of Autistic Shutdowns).
Contrary to popular belief, many Autistic folk do experience higher levels of empathy and this is a strong trait to possess within the Front of House part of my role. Sometimes people just want to check in and move on to the exhibitions, others become very responsive and engaged with long conversation. In my opinion, knowing this is crucial to providing a good visitor experience. I pick up what other staff members say to certain individuals and include that within my ‘Scripts’, and I hope that others can pick that up from me too. At the Cartoon Museum, it is encouraged to laugh, and I tend to laugh as conversation filler, a great combination!
Lastly, and as cliché as this sounds, the best part of my job is working with so many different people, both within our small team and an eclectic gang of volunteers. I have had so many opportunities to learn so many useful skills and life lessons from both teams. It truly is a delight to call them my colleagues and I would not have had such an amazing experience so far without them all! :]
What has been a bit of a challenge?
Whenever I am asked this I always seem to feel hesitant to admit that something is a challenge. It was certainly a transition to be comfortable with admitting that it was okay to be dependant on other staff and volunteers (especially the volunteers, my managing skills were much to be desired at first!!). It helps to have a small team who are on your side!
I would say a challenge is having a full understanding of instructions, especially with the niche tasks with super specific requests. I really do need a full on detailed explanation sometimes and lots of clarification, otherwise a task feels so impossible! This stems from my fear of making mistakes, I’m not the biggest risk taker nor problem solver so this is a skill I have been trying to learn here at the Cartoon Museum. I find that this stems from the near-universal Autistic experience of masking. For those who don’t know what masking is, it is truly a complex experience of identity suppression, whether from a psychological standpoint or as a survival mechanism, truly wanting to fit in is a survival instinct. I feel this in the lens of infantilisation, I look young, I act young, I mean I am only 20 in an environment where the next youngest person is 24, so sometimes it can feel quite alienating when I can’t relate to their experiences. I have had extreme reassurance that I am just as capable, but the scripts I have developed for myself in my head can be quite prevalent. If I was a comic book character this would be my fatal flaw, doubt.
Although these are only the challenges that I can work on, inevitably, there are things that I just cannot work on because they are hard-wired into my brain (The concept of a phone call will always terrify me no doubt), I am just thankful to be working in an environment where this sort of stuff does not become a huge inconvenience.
Have you got a favourite cartoon or artist in the museum?
Before starting this role, I was always deep into Japanese Manga rather than British Comics, in fact, I knew nothing before I started working here, heck, I didn’t even know the museum existed before I applied!
However, I have been enlightened, one cartoon sticks with me!
The cartoon that caught me was when I first came to the museum to do my interview. I was allowed to go into the Laughter Lab exhibition space afterwards. For context, the cartoons are sorted into pairs within a vs. scenario. One of the cartoons in Pair 14 made me chuckle, which is by Bryan McAllister and drawn sometime after 1964. It showcases two guys watching the TV, which has Hitler playing netball on it. He is hitting the netball with his salute (we all know the salute…) and the quote goes “There’s always been a link, just look at the way he helps the ball into the net with his hand…” . I don’t know why I laughed so much but it was just so silly, although anything that makes Hitler look like a clown is hilarious to me.
What are your plans for the future?
I will be finishing my contract with the Cartoon Museum at the beginning of September, luckily just before I got the role, I was accepted into my dream university! So 2 weeks after I am finished, I will be studying Concept and Comic Art for 3/4 years. I currently work on comics that centre Autistic/ND characters as well as characters with varying disabilities within the Fantasy Genre, in a way that isn’t that subtle. Answering questions such as, how does a character who needs to wear ear defenders all the time communicate within a fight? How can two differently autistic characters interact when one is affirmed with their identity and one hasn’t even been diagnosed, in a contextual setting where Autism is not perceived the same as within our own world? Essentially anything related to the lived experience of Autistic people! This is all I am planning for the future so far, but one thing for sure is that I will stay connected with the Cartoon Museum, I hope to do more work with them in the future years!
You can find out more about the Cartoon Museum here – https://www.cartoonmuseum.org/
Information on the government Kickstart Scheme – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-the-kickstart-scheme-works