Emma Nay

My Summer at ONCA

By Emma Nay

I was able to apply for an internship with ONCA through the University of Sussex’s First Generation Scholars scheme. The University provides additional financial and career support to students who do not have any immediate family members that have attended University.

One of the issues this scheme addresses is that First Generation Scholars often have a limited view of what careers are possible after graduation. As an English Literature student my family often asks if I will be a teacher, journalist or publisher when I graduate. Despite these being great careers, the thought of sidelining my interest in art and environmental issues to follow the most linear progression from my degree can be disheartening. But for a family of mechanics, prison officers and office workers it’s hard to be aware of the careers a degree allows you to access. 

The most important thing I learnt from my internship is that I can have a career which can allow me to pursue multiple interests while being in a welcoming working environment. From previous jobs I had internalised the idea that offices are brutal, functionalist spaces to encourage minimal comfort and maximum work. When I first stepped into the ONCA office I was surprised to see the books, plants and art prints that adorn every surface. I was especially excited about the sunny garden behind the gallery where the office’s dogs can get a run and you can sit to eat lunch. The combination of a welcoming working space, friendly colleagues and varied work opened my eyes to fulfilling types of work I could have in the future.

Emma in the garden at ONCA

One of the most rewarding aspects of my internship was making an impact on societal and environmental issues while learning about the ethics that surround this work. For two weeks I helped artist and scholar Siti Maimunah (Mai) set up and invigilate the exhibition: ‘Extracting Us’. The exhibition used photography to portray the devastating effects of coal mining in Indonesia and how the UK has encouraged these practices. Through observing workshops and screenings I became better informed about how the west dictates the discourse of environmental justice, causing accelerated climate breakdown in the global south. Building a relationship with Mai helped me to better understand the exhibition and I was happy to get to know the artist personally.

Extracting Us

One of my favourite jobs while working at ONCA was helping to install exhibitions. This gave me a chance to interact with artists, learn about their work and ONCA’s programming. It also gave me a chance to work closely with my colleagues who were always happy to answer my questions and made me feel welcome in the office. The ONCA staff are creative and caring people who are role models for how I would like to live my life.

I want to thank ONCA for the opportunity to work with them. They have made my summer interesting and educational, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I hope to work with ONCA again soon!