In an article for the RA Magazine, Kieran Long (Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital at the V&A) and Stella Duffy (co-director of Fun Palaces, a national campaign for greater access for all to the arts), ask: are we're building too many museums? On the one hand, Duffy argues that "we should focus all of our efforts on opening up existing museums to a much wider public" while on the other, Long suggests that "new museums can bring positive change to the places in which they are built." Ultimately, Long argues that "museums have a sense of authenticity and institutional mission that is rare in public life" yet, for Duffy, this doesn't mean we need more; rather, "we need to utilise what we already have."
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), named after the Queen and Her Consort, has its foundations in the Great Exhibition of 1851 amidst the wealth, innovation and squalor of the Industrial Revolution. Britain was flooded by prosperity which allowed for the development of major new institutions to collect and exhibit objects of cultural significance or artistic value. The institute’s first director, Henry Cole, declared that it should be “a schoolroom for everyone,” and a democratic approach to its relationship with public life has remained the cornerstone of the V&A. Not only has it always been free of charge but it was also the first to open late hours (made possible by gas lighting), allowing a more comprehensive demographic of visitor.
Their latest exhibition, which opens today, seeks to realign the museum’s vast collection and palatial exhibition spaces in South Kensington with these founding concepts. The interventions of All of This Belongs to You attempt to push the V&A’s position as an extension of London’s civic and cultural built environment to the fore, testing the museum’s ability to act as a 21st century public institution. To do this in London, a city where the notion of public and private is increasingly blurred, has resulted in a sequence of compelling installations which are tied together through their relevance either in subject matter, technique, or topicality.