Secretarial: I Work For... I'm part of this heritage

MEL STIDOLPH IS PA TO COLIN MCKENZIE, HEAD OF DEVELOPMENT AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY

I have been working in the development office at the National Gallery for a year. We are a relatively small department compared to other galleries, with only seven people - by comparison, the Tate Gallery has 40. We exist to raise additional funds for the gallery, as the government grant doesn't cover everything. For instance, the Rembrandt exhibition is being supported by Thames and Hudson publishers. We try to build relationships with individuals and companies to discover where their interest in the gallery lies.

While I was at university I did administrative and secretarial work to support myself. I did a masters degree in Vancouver, and also worked for the Vancouver Art Forum Society organising exhibitions and lectures. When I came back to London and found this job I was really pleased. I've always wanted to be involved in the arts and it's been good to learn about fund-raising.

I was very nervous at the interview. There were four people interviewing and Colin McKenzie was asking very hard questions. My initial perception was that he was quite tough. Since then I've realised that putting people through their paces is just for interviews. He is in fact very charming, with endless enthusiasm for the projects.

My job involves being an assistant to Colin, and office manager to organise the day-to-day running. As we are a small department we don't have specific roles, but all pitch in. During this month we won't have any social life as there are private views, dinners and also breakfasts.

At the interview they asked whether I would be prepared to work long hours. But it was only during the course of actually working, that reality of what this meant set in. On rare occasions I could work from half past eight in the morning until eleven at night.

When I joined, part of my job was to update the Rembrandt proposal, put together two years ago. After a sponsor is secured, all items of print - brochures and posters - have to be approved. There is usually some to-ing and fro-ing; it's just a process of a little to the left or to the right. I check that minute details are channelled through. I have to greet sponsors when they visit, help with tours around the gallery and assist with the dinners. On Monday night there was a dinner for 200 people involved with the exhibition. There will be private views all week. I really enjoy the dinners; after all the hard work, it's a good chance to meet the people who are involved.

It's wonderful to go through the process of thinking who might be a good sponsor, prepare a package and find they really are interested. I could never get the same experience in any other organisation; you meet people you never would otherwise.

I love walking through the main gallery surrounded by historical paintings. I could walk past a Monet or Van Gogh's Sunflowers; it's fantastic to be part of this heritage. It's really nice to see groups of children fascinated by the paintings, and it reminds me of how important my job is. It feels different when you can really believe in it.

My relationship with Colin isgood. We have fleeting communication because he is very busy during the day. Even though we sit next to each other, we usually communicate through e-mail. We are so busy, and need to know continually what stage negotiations are at and try to update regularly. He does his thing and lets me get on with mine.

The trust has grown over time. Colin is the only man in the department and sometimes we talk about things, like getting excited that David Ginola was coming to the Ingres exhibition, which he is perhaps not so interested in. He has a good sense of humour, though, and probably finds working with women a fascinating insight. When a major sponsor comes in, Colin brings out the champagne to celebrate.

In my spare time I take photographs and have shown my work in London. I take images of things like swimming-pools and bodies under water. I also like travelling and have recently been to Poland.

In the future I want to continue being involved with an arts organisation and to do photography. There will always be a need for fundraising here, and there could be more opportunities as the department gets bigger.

I didn't get any formal training, it's more a question of learning on the job. There is a lot to keep in your head at first. I didn't know any of the National Gallery's sponsors. Some have been involved with the gallery for a long time and expect you to know who they are. I had to try and find out as much as possible. Colin was really helpful - he always has lots of information. My Art background did help provide me with an understanding of historical periods and made the job more enjoyable.

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