Spotlight on Mark Carnall

23 May 2012

Mark Carnall

This week the spotlight is on Mark Carnall, Curator, UCL Museums and Public Engagement.

What is your role and what does it involve?

My role is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at UCL. It is hard to pin down precisely what the role involves, as on any given day the role changes, which is also one of the best things about the job.

My primary role is to ensure that the collection at the museum is documented, stored and used sustainably and responsibly. However, as part of this rather dry sounding role I end up undertaking a wide range of activities from writing publications, talking at conferences, planning exhibitions, doing museum themed stand-up comedy, researching objects, interacting with colleagues across the museum sector, contributing to various working groups in my department, escorting objects on loans, working with the press, developing novel teaching resources, supporting object based learning, teaching students within and outside of UCL, answering public enquiries, supervising volunteers, assisting research on the collection and research using the museum as a test bed.

On top of this, as we are a relatively small team, I inevitably also undertake less glamorous and more quotidian tasks such as a barman during our private views, a gallery assistant on days when we are open and a cleaner at the end of every day and week.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL (checks staff profile) since 2004. Before my role as curator I worked as a documentation assistant cataloguing the 15,000 strong entomology collection at the Grant Museum.

Before working at UCL, whilst studying for an MA in Museum Studies I had worked and volunteered at a number of other natural history museums mostly curating collections. Curating in the sense of detective work, object conservation and identification.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

It’s very hard to pin down one achievement that stands head or shoulders above the rest and once I start thinking about it there’s so much I’ve achieved since being at UCL. Perhaps the one I am most proud of is relocating the Grant Museum from the Darwin Building over the road to the Rockefeller Building where it is now.

Although in theory this sounds quite easy it was a complex logistical operation to move 70,000 irreplaceable and fragile specimens from one side of Gower Street to the other working with colleagues to design what the museum would look like and how it would function. It was complex enough before adding floods, snow and taking time out to go and get married!

Other achievements that deserve an honourable mention are performing stand-up comedy on a floating shark tank for UCL Bright Club in Brighton and in a sold-out Bloomsbury Theatre.

In general I am very proud of getting my ideas developed into concrete projects over the years, such as organising a conference about 3D laser scanning, developing cross-UCL exhibitions and shaping the design of the Grant Museum when it reopened last year. I’m very fortunate to work in a department that supports creativity and one where everyone contributes to the departmental strategy and how we fit in with the rest of UCL.

What is your life like outside UCL?

I feel like this is a trick question. Is the correct answer "there is no life outside of UCL?" Seriously though, my wife is a museum curator at the British Museum so, sadly, most evenings not spent working at Grant Museum events are spent visiting other museums (there are one or two in London) or going to private views.

I also volunteer for a charity Special Effect, a charity that helps disabled people to enjoy video games and I write for a number of websites. Too many, in fact!