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Future Cities Forum at the V&A Museum this September

Above: lunchtime in the John Madejski Garden at V&A Museum, South Kensington in May 2022

This September, Future Cities Forum will be at the V&A Museum in South Kensington, London, for its autumn 'cultural cities' forum.

The museum was founded with a mission: to educate designers, manufacturers and the public in art and design. Its origins lie in the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the profits used to develop a cultural district of museums and colleges in South Kensington devoted to art and science education. A selection of objects was also purchased following the exhibition, and these formed the core of a new Museum of Manufactures, under the direction of civil servant Henry Cole.

Dr Philippa ('Pip') Simpson, the current Director of Design, Estate and Public Programme at the V&A Museums, is hosting Future Cities Forum for our discussions in the historic boardroom. Dr Simpson took up her post at the V&A in December 2018. She leads the Design Studio, the Estate including all Capital Projects, and the Public Programme including exhibitions.

Pip studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Edinburgh, where she gained her BA Hons and MSc Res in History of Art. Having worked for a short time in the commercial art sector, she moved into museums as a curator at Tate, working on a range of international exhibitions and gallery projects while completing her PhD at the Courtauld on display culture and the genesis of the public gallery. She then moved to Royal Museums Greenwich to establish and manage an international touring exhibition programme. In 2014 Philippa joined the V&A to deliver a number of capital projects, including the Exhibition Road Quarter.

Pip showed Future Cities Forum round the museum and in particular the recently re-decorated room holding the Raphael Cartoons, which she has overseen.

The Raphael Cartoons are a set of seven full-scale designs for tapestry painted by Raphael (1483 – 1520), and are considered one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance. They were commissioned in 1515 by Pope Leo X for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and depict the lives of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The Cartoons have been on loan to the V&A from Her Majesty The Queen since 1865.

The themes of Future Cities Forum's cultural discussion event will be the regeneration of cities through culture post pandemic, master planning for new public realm to encourage outdoor events in towns and cities as part of the UK's tourism drive, cultural development on the high street, library development as cultural regeneration, and community engagement to encourage diversity in employment and further involvement in the arts from young people.

The V&A Museum has just renamed its Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London 'Young V&A'. The museum says:

'Over the last year the lives of young people have dramatically changed. Young V&A will explore some of the social and environmental issues facing young generations, and look at how we can talk about what is going on around us – to make a difference through creativity. For example, we have recently acquired a skateboard owned by the brilliant Olympic medallist Sky Brown, who says:

When kids skate, they forget about what they might be struggling through, and just think about happiness. I hope that when people see me, the smallest girl, doing the highest trick, that they think they can do anything, too. I'm so excited that my skateboard will go on show at Young V&A and love the idea of a museum that only exists to inspire young people and help them discover their superpowers. The sky is the limit! Sky Brown

While we're building Young V&A, we're working with schools and organisations near our museum building in London's Bethnal Green, asking the people there what they want to see, and what they want to say about ideas such as community, sustainable fashion and family.'

The V&A is also building V&A East. Opening at Here East in 2024, V&A East Storehouse offers a new immersive experience, taking visitors behind the scenes and providing unprecedented public access to V&A collections. A short walk across the park, opening in 2025, V&A East Museum celebrates global creativity and making relevant to today’s world. Both sites are part of East Bank, the Mayor of London's £1.1 billion Olympic legacy project, which will create a new arts, innovation and education hub in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Gus Casely Hayford commented at a previous Future Cities Forum in 2021 that he wanted V&A East to reflect the original V&A story, where the museum was the first to offer gas lighting and a restaurant to London communities so that people could come, enjoy and recreate:

'This was transformative for the age and so too we want to not be passive as a museum in East London but engage, whether it be through tertiary education or via the national curriculum through physical or the digital, enabling people to access jobs or enjoy the museum through handling the objects. In short, the objects are 'Yours' and in the spirit of our founder Henry Cole, it is there to 'Fulfil your dreams'. Some of the collection is 'contentious and difficult' and we are motivated to live up to the higher ideas of museology but we want to change the way people see our collections, now and in the future'.

'With a newly designed space which is vast - the scale of a football field - we will have a glorious new museum when built. There will be multiple floors where visitors can stand to look up and look out and 26,000 objects to explore. Those who are interested can look at best practice from designers around the world. There will be a newly designed state of the art exhibition space where the narratives from our creative communities can find space and present the reactions to the objects from the local community.

'We will draw in marginalised audiences and provide a digital interface which will bring the collections to life. Visitors will be able to record their impressions and leave something of themselves behind. We will create another layer of integration of objects - a space within itself - to seek out and explore the latest debates around the objects.

'There will be facilities for courses and for training. We have set up a connection with The Bartlett / UCL and The London College of Fashion for training and people will be able use this wider partnership to further their own professional opportunities, creating a new community of artists and by so doing, bring back into our own collections.'

Below: Exhibition Road Quarter at V&A Museum, South Kensington


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