V&A East reveals new “relaxed and inclusive” museum and research centre

Museum director Gus Casely-Hayford reveals plans for the new site, alongside acquisitions from Kenneth Grange and underrepresented creatives.

The V&A has revealed plans for the museum’s two east London sister sites, which it hopes will encourage young people’s creativity and create the next generation of local designers.

Museum director Gus Casely-Hayford says that the new site will honour the original V&A’s bold and progressive values but “recast that vision for the 21st century”.

A render of the interior of V&A East Storehouse

Speaking at a press conference to unveil the plans, the director explained that the two locations will put local residents and inclusivity at their heart.

V&A East Storehouse aims to show visitors the day-to-day of museum life through an interactive visitor experience. The site, which is set to open in 2024 at the Here East complex, will take people behind-the-scenes of planning exhibitions and managing archives. It has been designed by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

V&A East Museum will open the following year on Stratford waterfront, a ten-minute walk away from the research centre. The five-story museum has been designed by Dublin-based firm O’Donnell + Tuomey and is inspired by a Balenciaga dress, according to Casely-Hayford. It will house two galleries, an exhibition hall and an events space.

A render of V&A East Museum

Casely-Hayford, previously director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, stressed the importance of the museum’s role after a year of lockdown and  social unrest. “In my memory, the arts have rarely felt more critical, more important, more useful, or more contested,” he adds.

The new sites will be driven by the idea of “making”, Casely-Hayford says. “East London was a place of makers, a place of immigrants, and artists, and shifting populations,” he adds. “It’s equally defined by the lives of its majority: as a place of underinvestment and of huge demographic flux.”

“We want to welcome people who may not have felt that museums were for them”

Work from Mawuena Kattah

Casely-Hayford explains that the programming and output of the new cultural centre aims to reflect the diversity of this history. New acquisitions span photography, ceramics and fashion as well as fine art.

Included in the collection is a bright pink dress from local fashion designer Molly Goddard, whose designs have been worn by Beyoncé and actress Jodie Comer in television show Killing Eve.

There will also be textiles from Althea McNish (also included in the V&A’s new permanent 1900-Now gallery) and ceramics from artist Mawuena Kattah, inspired by her Ghanaian background. There will also be a new collection of industrial designer Kenneth Grange’s work.

The emphasis on diversity is perhaps not surprising given the criticism cultural institutions have received of late. When we spoke to V&A curator of 20th century and contemporary furniture Johanna Agerman Ross earlier this month, she said that “the museum collection has a long way to go to be as inclusive and diverse as we would want.”

Molly Goddard’s dress, which is part of the new collection

The ambition for inclusion will be achieved by the spatial design of the new sites, according to Casely-Hayford. “We want to create relaxed and inclusive spaces to welcome people who may not have felt that museums were for them,” he adds.

The research centre, for example, will put an emphasis on interaction through non-linear displays. The exhibition design will also seek to prompt storytelling and discussions about the collections.

A render of the research centre

“A new generation of cultural leaders”

Resolve’s workshops with local students

In an attempt to engage the local and diverse community of east London, the V&A is also establishing a series of community-focused programmes. The V&A East Youth Collective Programme is a six-month paid opportunity for locals between the ages of 16 and 25 to have their say on V&A East content.

This will be led in part by design collective Resolve, founded by brothers Akil and Seth Scafe-Smith. The team has been working with young people across the four neighbouring boroughs – Waltham Forest, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney – via creative workshops. The end result will be a series of installation in locations throughout these areas.

Creative consultancy A Vibe Called Tech, which explores the intersection of black creativity and innovation, has also partnered with V&A East on a residency sponsored by Google Arts and Culture.

Through these programmes and the museum’s collection, Casely-Hayford says V&A East will “foster a new generation of cultural leaders”. He adds: “We want to ensure that young people truly feel the creative industries are a career option for them.”

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