When Gwyn Miles quit the Victoria & Albert Museum just over two years ago to become director of Somerset House, she took on a daunting task. The cultural centre on London’s Strand does not enjoy the Government backing that institutions like the V&A can rely on and she had as tenants the Inland Revenue – not the ideal fit for her aspirations of creating a cultural hub there.
Now, though, the tax inspectors are on their way and Miles’ plans are starting to work out. Among her new tenants is the Sorrell Foundation, the largely educational charity set up by Sir John and Frances Sorrell, which ensures a regular traffic of school parties through the building to explore what they can achieve in their schools through design.
In May last year Somerset House launched new branding, by Neville Brody’s Research Studios, with the aim of creating a ‘unified voice’ for the venue. The rectangular design seeks to resemble a portal and imitates the listed Neoclassical building’s form.
Public events such as ice-skating, film-showings and live concerts are a feature of the building’s elegant courtyard. But the appointment of Claire Catterall, also of Scarlet Projects, to oversee the exhibition content brings a new slant to the programme.
Miles has achieved much in a relatively short time, in museum and gallery terms. Her appearance in the Hot 50 honours this, but is also a way of encouraging her.