Design Museum seeks director after Rawsthorn’s exit

Alice Rawsthorn has unexpectedly left her post as director of the Design Museum.

The sudden announcement of her ‘departure’ came from the museum at the end of last week. It is still not clear if she resigned her position, or if she was asked to leave by the museum’s board of trustees, however the terms of her departure appear to have been agreed consensually.

The former Financial Times journalist and broadcaster cleared her desk on Friday. She was approaching the end of her fifth year’s tenure, but was not expected to step down. She will continue to oversee the museum’s co-ordination of the Great British Design Quest, which is being made with BBC 2’s The Culture Show, and runs until 16 March. Rawsthorn succeeded in increasing visitor numbers to the museum by 40 per cent and doubling educational visits, but her reign will be best remembered for challenging conventional definitions of design. The public debate, generated by an exhibition on a flower arranger and a controversial Designer of the Year award, is unlikely to be surpassed in the near future.

Suzzanna Taverne, managing director of the British Museum between 1999 and 2001, and director of operations at Imperial College London, will take over from Rawsthorn until a successor is found.

Design Museum chairman of trustees Luqman Arnold commended Rawsthorn for her ‘huge passion and commitment’ to the Design Museum, but declined to elaborate on the reasons for her departure.

With the museum’s plans for a £50m expansion and relocation now openly on the table, the opportunities facing the next director are substantial. It is likely that the incoming director will not only have international experience in charge of a museum, but will be well known in design circles.

Rawsthorn became director of the museum in April 2001, when she was brought in to replace Paul Thompson, who left two months earlier.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum:

• April 2001 – Alice Rawsthorn takes over from Paul Thompson as museum director

• September 2004 – James Dyson quits as chairman, following a public spat over an exhibition on Constance Spry

• March 2005 – Former Abbey chief executive Luqman Arnold takes over as chairman of the museum

• June 2005 – Rawsthorn chairs the Designer of the Year Award, which causes controversy when it is awarded to a design strategist, Hilary Cottam

• January 2006 – Design Museum announces departure of Rawsthorn and begins proceedings to find a successor

• January 2006 – Arnold outlines plans for a £50m relocation and expansion to be completed by 2012

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