Mark Jones, head of the National Museums of Scotland, has been named as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), ending months of speculation about Dr Alan Borg’s successor. The appointment was officially announced on 13 February, although Mr Jones had heard privately a week earlier, on his 50th birthday. Timothy Clifford of the National Galleries of Scotland, Charles Saumarez Smith of the National Portrait Gallery and Sandy Nairne of the Tate were among other contenders on the short list. Although Dr Borg’s contract runs until next January, he is expected to step down earlier, probably early in the summer.
In welcoming the appointment, Culture Secretary Chris Smith said that although the V&A is one of the great national institutions, “it faces considerable challenges, but I am sure Mark will ensure the museum is able to sustain its appeal, its importance and its relevance well into the future.”
This formal comment is perhaps further evidence that the government has not been entirely happy with the V&A. Museum chairman Ms Paula Ridley, who led the move to get a new director, did pay tribute to Dr Borg: “Alan’s achievements will be long-lasting. Under his directorship, the museum has staged a series of highly successful exhibitions of which “Art Nouveau” and “Grinling Gibbons” stand out. Perhaps his greatest achievement will be the completion of the £31 million new British Galleries.”
Initially, Mr Jones had been reluctant to apply for the V&A post because he was keener on the British Museum directorship, which is expected to come up in 2002 with the retirement of Dr Robert Anderson (who was Mr Jones’s predecessor at the National Museums of Scotland). By late last year, Mr Jones decided to go for the V&A job.
Since the announcement, Mr Jones has said little about his plans, although he is known to want to restore free admission at the V&A. He is also thought to be an enthusiast for the Spiral building, which will involve raising at least £80 million, and his support for the project must have endeared him to some of the trustees. The National Galleries of Scotland will now be seeking a new director, and Mr Jones’s post is expected to be advertised shortly.
Mark Jones, born in 1951, had a very Establishment education: Eton, Oxford (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and the Courtauld (where he did his MA). Apart from a six-month stint at the National Museum in Singapore in 1969, his first job was at the British Museum, where in 1974 he joined as Assistant Keeper of Coins and Medals, rising to Keeper in 1990. Coins and Medals has long had a reputation as one of the British Museum’s backwaters, but Mr Jones brought a fresh approach and promoted interest in medals, which led to an important exhibition on “The art of the medal” in 1977. His greatest success was his 1990 show “Fake? The art of deception”, which covered the entire spectrum of the museum’s interests, winning scholarly acclaim and popular interest.
In 1992 Mr Jones was appointed director of the National Museums of Scotland, where he was responsible for a group of museums: the Royal Museum in Chambers Street (decorative arts, science and industry, archaeology and natural history), the adjacent Museum of Scotland (which reopened in a new £50 million building in 1998, for Scottish history), the Museum of Flight in East Lothian, the Shambellie House Museum of Costume, the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle (which opened last year) and the Museum of Scottish Country Life in East Kilbride (opening in July). Altogether these museums have a budget of £16 million, 400 staff and 1.2 million visitors a year, putting it on par with the V&A (which has a budget twice this size, but with visitor numbers just below 1 million).
Mr Jones has a reputation for being quiet and keeping his thoughts to himself, making him rather different from the other Edinburgh candidate for the V&A post, the ebullient Dr Clifford. He is a behind-the-scenes fixer and efficient administrator, and is seen as a “safe pair of hands”. Mr Jones is a board member of both Resource and the Scottish Museums Council, and co-founder of the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, a £15 million millennium project to use new technology to provide access to collections in Scotland. He is married with four children.