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V&A will not scrap focus on materials in restructuring U-turn

An updated proposal will keep the collection organised around mediums instead of switching to a chronological approach

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London Photo: David Iliff; License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) has backtracked on plans to restructure its curatorial departments after critics warned of a culling of expertise at the institution. Under the initial overhaul aimed at cutting costs by at least £10m annually in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, director Tristram Hunt proposed creating new chronology-based collection departments.

The V&A’s collections have traditionally been organised by material, such as metalwork and textiles. The original reorganisation involved converting the European and American collections into three new chronological and cross-disciplinary departments: medieval to late 18th century, 19th century to 1918, and Modern and contemporary. Another department would merge the current Islamic Middle East and Asia sections with a new team dedicated to sub-Saharan Africa and African diasporic art, design and performance.

The V&A confirmed it had since revised the proposal and would extend the consultation period for the restructure. A V&A statement issued today says: “As part of the ongoing consultation process with V&A staff and trade union representatives, we have shared an updated proposal that retains and reforms the V&A’s materials-led approach, creates three new curatorial departments by bringing existing departments together in addition to a department for Asia, delivers the agreed savings, and builds a structure and vision that will connect with the audiences of tomorrow.” A museum spokesman adds that the curatorial teams will still be restructured but a material focus will remain.

The V&A said it remained committed to establishing a new, centralised research, National Art Library and archive service, and increasing resources focused on Africa and the diaspora. Hunt announced earlier this month that all National Art Library staff and Theatre & Performance archivists will stay employed through the government’s furlough scheme until the end of September. The library is due to reopen by the end of the year.