Sackler Centre for arts education: design & build
In 2009 the Sackler Centre was long-listed for The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries 2009 – the largest arts prize in the UK.
David Anderson, Director of Learning and Interpretation at the V&A at the time of the long-listing said he was
'delighted that the Sackler Centre has been selected for consideration for this prestigious prize. The Centre is developing an innovative approach to museum learning that is integrated with the work of the whole institution and aims to reach a wide range of new audiences. We are thrilled to have this recognised by The Art Fund Prize.'
In 2010 the Sackler Centre won a prestigious RIBA London award in the Arts and Leisure category when architects Softroom were recognised for their innovative design.
Interview with Softrooom architect Christopher Bagot
In this interview Christopher takes us through the design and build of the Sackler Centre, from tender documents to finishing details.
Tour of the Sackler Centre with Christopher Bagot
Christopher also conducted a filmed tour of the Sackler Centre and discussed the decisions behind the designs and detailing throughout the building:
Sackler Centre project diary
A generous donation helped the V&A to establish the Sackler Centre for arts education in what was previously known as the Henry Cole Wing. The total budget for the project was £4 million, and the project architects were Softroom. Construction began in January 2007 and the Centre opened in September 2008.
View of the exterior of the Henry Cole Wing where the Sackler Centre will be
David Anderson, Director of Learning and Interpretation
I have been at the V&A since 1990. The first memo I wrote to the then Director, was a request that we should build an education centre. Ever since then, an education centre has been part of our plans, but lack of funds, and the need to find the right space, have always stood in our way.
Now the project will happen. We at last have spaces for learning that are appropriate for a world-class museum. The location we have chosen is beside the Museum's Exhibition Road entrance. The new centre is part of the V&A's Futureplan, a ten year plan to improve the visitor experience. For me it is very important that the centre is not, like so many education spaces in museums, tucked away in a dark basement in a far corner of the building.
It is appropriate that the Sackler Centre will be in a building named after Henry Cole, the founder and first Director of the V&A. When it opened in 1857, Henry Cole said 'This museum will be like a book that is open and not shut'. His aim was to attract everyone to the Museum - rich and poor, children as well as adults, designers and manufacturers as well as consumers. He had great faith in the power of museums to help people change their lives for the better. The world itself has changed a lot in the last 150 years, and our understanding of what museums can and can't achieve is based on research that wasn't available to him. But I admire Henry Cole's ambition. Opening the new Sackler Centre is a wonderful opportunity to restate the significance of design in the twenty-first century, and for a new generation of visitors to engage with it creatively.
Caroline Lang, fourth from the left
Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
I started working on this project in its early stages in 2004. My role is to be the 'client' for the project, representing the people, both members of the public and V&A staff, who will use the Centre. I want to ensure that the new spaces are suitable for the activities and events to be run in them and that they are comfortable, welcoming and accessible for all our visitors. In projects like this these perspectives are often only brought in later when spaces have already been designed; being involved from the start should ensure that the Sackler Centre works as well as it possibly can for everyone. We have adopted a collaborative, consultative approach in order to achieve this.
My first task was to produce a brief for the architects explaining what we wanted in as much detail as possible. A multi-disciplinary Project Team, with members from the web, collections and contemporary teams as well as the Learning and Interpretation Division, has been meeting twice a month. We discussed our ideas as widely as possible, particularly with Softroom the architects, consulted existing users, made visits to other similar spaces, and looked at research to inspire us.
Our aims were that the Sackler Centre should:
- inspire learning, enjoyment and creativity;
- provide excellent, flexible facilities;
- put learning at the heart of the museum;
- be accessible and welcoming to all of our diverse audiences;
- provide a brand new arts centre for this part of London.
In essence our brief to the architects was that we wanted the building to feel 'contemporary, elegant, flexible, not corporate and not like school'. We really hope that the design will achieve these aims.
Special Advisors visit the Laban Centre
Ruth Lloyd, Sackler Centre Project Administrator
I have been the administrator for the Project Team since January 2004. I have, amongst other things, organised the internal and external consultation sessions and our research visits.
Early in the project while we were developing the brief with our architects we started to consult users and potential users of our education facilities. We worked with the Sorrell Foundation who identified schools in Tyne and Wear, Halesowen West Midlands and Greenwich, London. Each school provided us with a team of Special Advisors aged between 12 and 16. First they visited the V&A to get a feel for the Museum and what it was currently offering for this age group. It quickly became apparent that it was very difficult to discuss spaces that were not yet built! So we asked each group to visit other venues near them and report back to us on what they liked and disliked. They were brutally honest. Their opinion on one venue that shall remain nameless was: 'the light is glaring, the walls are bare, the furniture's old-fashioned, there aren't any objects…'
All of them came back to present their ideas to the V&A and to the architects. This was a very successful day and we all learned a lot from the young people who participated. There were some very definite messages that came from this consultation and which were fed into the design process. Key words were:
- Colour, light and atmosphere
- Personalised space, variety and choice
Family Event in the Lunchroom
Lorna O'Brien, Head of Families and Young People
The V&A runs a popular and varied programme for families. Sometimes in the holidays and at half term there are several hundred people attending our drop-in activities so we are keen to ensure that they have a good experience. Often visitor research focuses on how families feel about the content of the events they attend but practical considerations can have a huge impact on how much they enjoy their visit. We wanted to know how they used the existing facilities and what we could do to improve on them in the new Sackler Centre.
Our consultation with families took place during an Easter holiday event and was based on a questionnaire. We asked particularly about the services and facilities for families, for example the café, toilets and picnic space.
Family groups are sometimes one adult and one child but more often there will be several children of different ages. We realised from the survey that we needed to make it easier for parents and carers to feel confident about finding their way around and to provide facilities that could be used by the whole group together. Babies need to be changed and fed and often families want a pleasant place to eat their own food. The design now reflects these findings.
There can never be enough toilets but we have now provided as many as possible in the space available and have made sure that there are extra accessible toilets on each floor. In addition there will be a family toilet, a separate baby change and feeding room with provision for toddlers as well, and baby change facilities in both the male and female toilets. The cupboards in the cloakroom area have been designed to accommodate buggies and a space will be kept free during activities for visitors to eat their own food.
The Digital Studio, image by Softroom
Morna Hinton, Head of Learning Services, Member of Project Team
I am the Head of Learning Services at the V&A. My role on the Project Team is to ensure that the wider staff of the Learning and Interpretation Division feed their ideas into our plans for learning programmes and displays in the Sackler Centre. In particular, I am putting together the opening programme of events. I am really excited about the expanded facilities we will have, enabling more people to engage creatively with our collections.
We already offer a wide range of educational activities from art events for families at the weekends to study days and courses for adults. The V&A is the National Museum of Art and Design and our collections are the starting point for all of these. Whenever possible we run activities in the galleries alongside the objects. However, sometimes other spaces are needed, for example when visitors use art materials or photographic and digital techniques to create their own work. Also it helps to have a more intimate place for discussion than a public gallery, or a safe quiet place for the close study and handling of objects. The spaces we currently use are scattered around the museum which can make running a programme difficult and they are also a bit out of date and not very well equipped or comfortable to use.
The Digital Studio, shown here, is one of our most exciting new spaces. It will have the latest equipment for making the most of technology in learning and teaching about art, craft and design.
Lunchroom, image by Softroom
Chris Bagot, Softroom, Sackler Centre Architects
Christopher Bagot is a director of Softroom, an architecture and design practice based in central London.
I lead the team working on the Sackler Centre at the V&A and have worked with Caroline and the project team to consult on and develop the brief in a more extensive way than we usually do before detailed design. This has been a very productive approach.
Softroom have been working on the designs for the Sackler Centre since 2003. We've spent a good proportion of this time getting to know the way in which Learning and Interpretation currently operates at the V&A and learning about the future possibilities for these kinds of activities.
In developing our designs for the Sackler Centre we have been fortunate to be able to interact with end users in several ways. Working with the Sorrell Foundation, we took part in a series of visits and workshops with groups of schoolchildren from Birmingham, London and Newcastle at a very early stage in the design process. Acting as 'clients', the pupils drew upon the observations they made while visiting a series of cultural buildings to set out what some of their ambitions for the project would be. It was fascinating to see the amount of common sense and instinctive thinking they brought to design details that one might assume would be overlooked. They were harsh critics of lazy thinking and understood well the importance of function as well as stimulation.
Observing some of the V&A's current courses and events and talking with programme managers and tutors helped us to understand which decisions would have the biggest impact on the ultimate usability of a space. Often the failings of current facilities made it easy to highlight what their preferred solution would be. Also, the many discussions that have taken place between the architects and the Museum have been very useful in finalising the brief. In a museum with such wide-ranging educational services as the V&A, it has given us confidence to know that we are taking on board the sometimes contradictory requirements of as many different stakeholders as possible.
Gallery talk for visually impaired visitors in the New Sculpture Gallery, V&A
Barry Ginley, V&A Disability And Access Officer
In November 2002, I was appointed as Disability And Access Officer at the Victoria & Albert Museum. This was a new area of work, as my previous experience was providing a consultancy service to the Royal National Institute of the Blind and several property service companies. The role is varied, dealing with all aspects of the Museum’s work, including developing policies and strategy, design of galleries, staff training, and managing talks programmes.
I have had extensive input into the Sackler Centre, beginning in 2003, as a representative of the Project Team. My role is now as a consultant, providing advice on disability issues as they arise and ensuring that access for disabled visitors remains a major priority.
Achieving independent access for everyone to the whole of the Sackler Centre has been an overriding consideration in how the V&A wishes the Centre to be used and formed an important part of our original brief to the architects. The site is an existing building rather than a new one and they had to find solutions to a number of problems. One example of the many access issues to be considered was to provide a link between several different floor levels and the upper floor. As this level will house the new auditorium, seminar rooms and two studios for artists in residence, it is very important that everyone can access these. Softroom have solved this by installing a ramp on this level instead of a platform lift. Providing ramped access, which exceeds guidance given in Building Regulations Part M, will assist visitors to not only access the entire Centre, but also evacuate without staff assistance in the event of an emergency.
Locker, image by Softroom
Colin Mulberg, Member of Project Team
My role has been to check the practical elements of the design as the project evolved and to ensure, as far as possible, that there are no surprises further along in the timetable which might delay progress.
The Sackler Centre will be used by a wide range of people of all ages throughout the day. Some will visit professionally, others in their leisure time. Their experience of their visit to the V&A will be coloured by how well the Centre works in practice. For example, good lockers and lunch arrangements that work well for a whole class are important on school trips; families with young children need easy access to baby-changing facilities. Students and professionals attending a conference need crisp visual presentations. Everyone needs clear routes around the Centre and it must feel welcoming and accessible.
We built a prototype locker to test how it would work with school groups of different ages. We made a model of the lunchroom to see how it would cope with 200 pupils at a time. We tested the visual projection screen to make sure that the image was of a high quality, no matter where you were seated. We tried out the auditorium seats with different people. We mocked-up the direction signs. We looked at the likely flow of people around the rooms and the sloped floor of the exhibition area to make sure it works for wheelchair users. We also thought about where to serve coffee during a break for events in the Seminar Rooms and Auditorium. We kicked samples of the door material for our storage cupboards to see if they would break in use - they survived.
As the project moves into the building phase, we can be sure that the Sackler Centre will be highly functional and easy to use, reflecting the V&A's focus on high quality design.
Every Object Tells A Story, June 2004
Jo Jones, Web Content Manager, Member of Project Team
My name is Jo and I am a web content manager at the V&A. I have advised on the IT/ digital side of the project and will be managing the Sackler Centre's web presence both during construction, to keep you up to date, and once it opens in 2008.
Digital technologies can allow visitors to completely redefine their museum experience and are now an integral part of how we communicate with our various audiences.
As part of our research we commissioned Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton to advise us on IT in the Sackler Centre. We asked them to give us specific technical advice on how to achieve our objectives. This included designing an effective, secure, participative digital learning environment for the Centre; advising on the equipment we would need and on likely future developments in technology to allow for updating our systems without frequent refits.
They were asked to:
- Design an IT system for the Sackler Centre as a whole.
- Recommend how to set up the Digital Studio.
- Provide specifications and advice for the IT equipment we would need.
- Advise on issues of maintenance and running costs, software, licences, upgrading etc.
Read the Learning Lab IT report (Large PDF file, 1,626KB)
Lighting design demonstration, April 2004
Ruth Lloyd, Residency and Displays Coordinator
One of the new programmes that will launch in The Sackler Centre is a Museum Residency programme. We hope that this will contribute to making the Centre a dynamic, creative space. There will be two studios in the Centre in which resident artists/ makers will be able to work. It is unusual to have permanent residency studios in an educational setting. We wanted to give residents access to the V&A collections for study, and also to give users of the Sackler Centre an opportunity to interact with the artist/ maker and learn about the processes used to develop work.
We began research in early 2005 by visiting a number of existing residency programmes, such as at the Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and Gasworks in London. I attended a workshop at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, aimed at artists wanting to take part in residency programmes, to find out what an artist or maker might expect to gain from such an experience. I also talked to artists who had already taken part in residencies to try to understand what opportunities and benefits these programmes provided, both as a learning experience and in contributing to their professional practice. This helped us to decide the length of each residency, what our studios might look like, how they would operate, and what facilities we needed to install when building the spaces. The studios will have basic facilities including running water, power, wi-fi and one clear wall for displaying work. Each resident can add further equipment and materials to suit their work.
We held a consultation workshop at the Museum to which we invited V&A curators, public programme leaders, museum educators and external contacts from other arts organisations who had experience of running residency programmes. This established exactly what we wanted to gain from our programme, what form we expect public engagement to take and what we would call the programme. We decided upon 'Museum Residency', a term which includes a wide range of artists, designers, performers, writers, musicians, craftspeople and artists working with new media.
Since then, we have been working in partnership with a number of different organisations including the Crafts Council, the London Printworks Trust, the London Print Studios and Gasworks to develop our programme further. Although the studios will be built as part of the Sackler Centre, we have to fundraise for the Residency programme. At present, funds are committed from the Crafts Council and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for six residencies of six months each. We are now able to begin the process of selecting our first residents. Studios will be open to the public at set times and the resident will also work on projects with one or more of the V&A’s audience groups: community groups, schools, families, students or people with disabilities.
'Soul Food 4 All Day'; part of Black History Month, Oct 2003. Demonstration by award-winning chef Orlando.
Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
In the brief to the architects I outlined the kinds of visitors we expected to have and what they would be doing. For example, the cookery demonstration shown here took place in a space that was far from ideal. We want the spaces in the Centre to work for all our visitors and accommodate a wide range of programmes at different times of the day and evening.
The Sackler Centre will also function, at times, as an arts centre and venue, opening outside normal Museum hours. Facilities for digital media and access considerations had to be integrated into the design throughout. Softroom worked out how to allocate functions to the spaces available which required a considerable amount of discussion, and, in a building that is not a new one, some compromises inevitably had to be made.
Eventually a plan, which we feel makes good use of the building, was agreed. We will have 1,762 square meters, more than double the space currently allocated to educational use. Facilities will include:
- A large reception area, and information point where staff will welcome and advise visitors to the Centre.
- A public space for display of the work of participants in onsite and outreach programmes, alongside works from the collections.
- A seminar room and an auditorium capable of seating up to 75 and 140 respectively, for general courses and teaching programmes as well as professional conferences, events and films.
- A high quality practical art studio with capacity for 35.
- Two studios for artists, designers and craftspeople in residence.
- A digital studio equipped with the latest technology, used both for structured courses and independent investigation, accommodating 35.
- A large lunchroom with cloaks space, which will also be used at weekends and holidays for large-scale activities and events and in the evenings as a bar.
- Excellent new toilets.
- Storage for equipment, materials, objects to support teaching programmes, events and activities in the Sackler Centre.
- A Green Room for visiting speakers.
- An office/ staff room for events assistants.
Student on the 'Make and Model Your Own Garment' educational workshop
Morna Hinton, Head of Learning Services, Member of Project Team
One of the most exciting aspects offered by the Sackler Centre is the chance to completely review our public events programme. We will have new spaces such as the Digital Studio, Art Studio and Auditorium, as well as the Residency Studios. Our initial focus for the programme was the opening weekend, for which we are currently planning a multi-media design theme. We started out very ambitiously, with different events in every space for each day of a long weekend. On reflection, we feel that this might put a lot of logistical strain on a new building. The experience of our V&A colleagues at the Museum of Childhood, which reopened in December with new Education facilities, has played a big part in the way we are now simplifying the programme.
Because we have to plan at least 6 months in advance for most event types, we will be quite cautious for the first few months of the programme, in that we will schedule things that could happen in existing spaces if the construction and fit-out schedule slips. Having said that, the opening weekend will include events that make the most of our new facilities and if we need to reschedule it then we will. It is much easier to reschedule a single weekend than a whole three-month programme that will include the Easter holidays…!
Our development process includes wide consultation with colleagues around the Museum, looking at different audiences, as well as intensive working groups composed of staff from the Learning and Interpretation Division. We have also consulted the casual staff who work on our events, many of whom are practising artists and have lots of creativity to contribute. All the ideas are being compiled into a single document that will be reviewed by senior managers before proceeding to the next stage.
Marcelle Quinton, portrait bust of Lord Carrington
Zoe Whitley, Curator, Contemporary Team, Member of Project Team
I am a Curator of Contemporary Programmes here at the Museum and represent the Contemporary Team on this project. My role on the project team also involves establishing a collaborative permanent exhibition display with input from Humanities courses at the RCA, where I was once a student. The Sackler Centre will be a fantastic resource for Contemporary Programmes, supporting and expanding our mission to attract new audiences while inspiring and challenging people's perceptions about the Museum and what it can offer.
One of the main aims of the V&A's Contemporary Programme is to engage with the creative industries. The new Sackler Centre will help the Museum as a whole to further this aim through artist residencies, talks, conferences and events.
One of the aspects I find most exciting about working on the Sackler Centre project team is being able to work on new ways of engaging the next generation of creative practitioners. Together with several other members of the project team, we are developing an innovative new way of displaying objects from the permanent collections. We have issued a call to young curating students and design historians from the Royal College of Art to devise a fresh perspective on assembling and presenting the collections. The former cafe will be transformed into an exciting multi-function space, where objects from the historical collections will be displayed as a contemporary installation on a series of columns.
Jewellery workshop involving refugee communities
Rajiv Anand, South Asian Community Education Officer and Cultural Diversity Team Leader
I am the South Asian Community Education Officer at the V&A. My job is to represent the interests of cultural diversity and equality across the V&A, to be an advocate for diverse audiences and to run projects in collaboration with partners and communities outside the Museum. My work is therefore very varied. I have represented the V&A's Access, Social Inclusion and Community Development Team on the Sackler Centre Project Team since early 2006.
Our aim from the beginning has been to make the Sackler Centre feel welcoming, attractive, relevant and engaging to the widest possible range of people. My role is to liaise with my team to ensure that this aim becomes a reality. The new spaces will enable us to run exciting projects, encouraging visitors from diverse backgrounds to explore and engage with the collections here in different ways and also to reach out further to wider audiences beyond our walls using the technology that the new Centre will provide.
An innovative residency scheme will see two studios in the Centre being used by artists, designers and craftspeople interacting with the public. I have been particularly involved in this aspect as I feel that it will really help to make The Sackler Centre a creative and inspiring space. I have recently organised a series of jewellery workshops with young men who come from asylum and refugee communities. The young men in these workshops originate from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia and had never made jewellery before. They were very keen to get involved with this highly technical and creative art form, using the Indian collections in the Nehru Gallery as an inspiration. The group worked with a professional jeweller who interacted well with the young men and pitched workshops at the right level in order to fully engage with the participants. It is expected that these young people will continue to work with the V&A across its many exciting and diverse programmes in the new Centre.
This experience will help with planning one of the first residencies, for a jewellery maker, which we are planning for April 2008. When we advertised the residency we tried to ensure it came to the attention of the widest possible range of practitioners.
Building works in progress
Laura Saffill, Sackler Centre Project Co-ordinator
I joined the project half-way through as Project Co-ordinator in May 2006 so had lots of catching up to do. It's my job to liaise between the Project Team, Project Manager and various stakeholders across the Museum. Co-ordinating the removal and later installation of objects, project photography and signage are just a few of my responsibilities.
Construction began early this year and will take 46 weeks to complete. Once complete, an equally busy phase will begin, fitting out the centre with IT and audio-visual equipment, furniture, object displays and many other essential pieces of equipment. I'm currently working on an installation programme which breaks down these various elements, culminating in a testing and piloting period prior to opening in spring 2008.
A key feature of the new Sackler Centre will be its Auditorium. This will be capable of seating approximately 150, for conferences, courses and performances. Construction of this space has begun with large pieces of steel being installed. These steels will support the auditorium and enable the existing floor beneath to be removed. Once the floor has been removed, construction can begin on the new staircase that will provide access to the auditorium. I visited the site this morning with our photographer to capture these steels for our project record and was amazed by their size! Photos will be taken regularly throughout the life of the project, giving us a record of the changes being made to the building structure.
'Polo' chair, Robin Day
Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
With the building work well under way we're turning our attention to furniture this month. About two years ago Softroom, with the Project Team, listed all the furniture we would need for the different spaces in the Sackler Centre. This gave us an idea of the budget allocation and the numbers we could accommodate in each space but now it's time to look at this furniture in more detail. The lead time for ordering furniture is about 12 weeks so we'll need to do this towards the end of November. It's very important to think carefully about who will be using the spaces and what they will be doing. Softroom checked our brief and presented their ideas to the Project Team yesterday. This was very exciting because at last it's possible to envisage the spaces as they will really look. Our overall brief was that we wanted the Centre to feel smart and contemporary, more arts centre than corporate or 'like school'. The overall idea is to use furniture by several different designers.
The Lunchrooms present a challenge because they need to be practical, flexible and suitable for a range of different uses. Mainly schools and families during the day but converted into more sophisticated space in the evenings for use by adults, students, young people and even corporate clients. For the main Lunchroom they have suggested tables in several shades of green with simple benches, which gives us the maximum capacity for lunchtimes. The tables can be rolled into different positions for evening use. 'Polo' chairs, designed by Robin Day have been chosen for Lunchroom 2 and the Design Studio, this enables us to accommodate different numbers and layouts, adults and children of different shapes and sizes. Altogether this will give us the capacity for sittings of around 200 people at a time.
The Digital Studio has already had quite a bit of discussion. We want this space to feel high-tech but also work well for the large numbers who will use it. Softroom have proposed tables by Jasper Morrison. They have a good system for tidying away all the cables associated with computers but are a bit too big to give the flexibility we need so we are still looking at alternatives. The height adjustable version of the 'polo' chair will probably fit the bill in terms of seating for the Digital Studio.
Chair, Ron Arad
Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
The Art Studio needs to be really practical. Here there is a lot of debate. The tables are standard height and the Project Team feel we really need them to be adjustable. In a practical studio people sometimes work sitting down but are just as likely to stand. How many higher stools and how many standard chairs will we need? We also might want to clear space so that easels or mannequins can be used. After a lot of debate we agreed that this room needs more thought.
In the Reception area there will be a purpose built reception desk but also seating for visitors who are using the computer points, the coffee machine or just socialising. The suggestion is to use furniture by a number of different designers. Keeping their theme of natural colours, Softroom suggest the beautiful 'Polder' sofa in greens and purple by Hella Jongerius with Ron Arad chairs in white and orangey red. The sofa looks great but we wonder if it will be practical enough for the large numbers who are likely to use it. Some of the Project Team are less sure about the chairs 'could we have more variety, will they get dirty, what sort of table would work with this?' At the computer terminals and coffee point they suggest classic 'Alto' stools in different colours and 'La Fonda' coffee tables by Charles and Ray Eames.
Next to be discussed are the two new Seminar Rooms. Having the same furniture in each will help to accommodate different numbers and functions. Seminar Room 1 needs 75 chairs for talks but different layouts for seminars or discussions and we'll need to be able to clear them away quickly. Softroom suggest the 40-4 chair which links and stacks onto a trolley. There is a large storage cupboard in this room, so now we need to make sure these trolleys and a few spare tables will fit. Seminar Room 2 is next to the Auditorium and it's possible to have the same chairs in green leather to match the colour scheme there. This costs more but means that we can use them on the stage for panel discussions and debates rather than buying additional chairs which may not be used all the time. The final decision will have to wait until we can see what has been suggested is within the budget allocated for furniture. We'll do this at another more detailed presentation, with samples of the front runners to try out and costs to compare, at the beginning of November.
A collection of sculpture heads from India.
Zoe Whitley, Curator, Contemporary Team, Member of Project Team
We've made a breakthrough in assessing and shortlisting the proposals received from the RCA students. As with any project, there were a few setbacks - for a while there we were honestly wondering if any students were going to submit anything at all! But proposals did come in, myself and Ruth from the Project Team, Charley the HE Students Officer and Line from the Design Studio have been able to look through the submissions to ascertain which proposal came closest to the brief we set.
Our main priority has always been for this project to physically place the Museum collections at the heart of the Sackler Centre, but to do so in an imaginative and unexpected way. We want to reinforce the idea that museum education isn't separate from what one sees and experiences in other V&A gallery spaces. We wrote in bold in the brief that we were looking for something 'contemporary, elegant, not corporate and not like school.' To give you a sense of what to expect, some of the other key words were 'engaging; fun; surprise; and inspirational.'
We'll shortly be notifying all of those who put so much creativity and effort into the proposals. Watch this space for the announcement of the winning scheme...
Silver brooch by Dorothy Hogg. Photo: John K. McGregor
Ruth Lloyd, Residency and Displays Coordinator
We've had a very busy summer developing the Museum Residency Programme in preparation for the opening of the Sackler Centre next April. There will be two studios for Resident artists or makers in the Sackler Centre which enables us to have four six-month residencies each year. Since this is a new programme for the V&A, we have had to devise a process for recruiting the Residents. We involved a variety of Museum staff and external contacts in this because we wanted to be sure that all the people who would work with the Residents were consulted. By involving this wide network of specialists, we were confident of being able to appoint Residents who met all of the criteria we had set. They will be artists and makers who have a established career, who have some experience of, or are interested in working with the public in an educational setting, and who will work with the Museum's collections. We decided to ask the practitioners who applied to send us 12 images of their work along with a CV and covering letter explaining why they wanted to take part in this programme. The short-listed candidates were then asked to give a short presentation to an audience of around 12 V&A staff and representatives from partner organisations before an interview with a smaller panel.
In June we appointed artist jeweller Dorothy Hogg MBE for our first Craft Residency in a programme of three residencies we are running in partnership with the Crafts Council. Dorothy is a well-known artist working primarily with metals. The V&A has recently acquired a piece of Dorothy's work which will be displayed in the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery due to open in 2008. The residency will coincide with the opening of the gallery. As well as being a high-profile craftsperson, Dorothy is an experienced teacher and is currently Professor of Jewellery and Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art.
In August we put a call out for a New Media residency which is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and will soon be interviewing candidates. The range of applicants for this residency is very exciting and has included film-makers, sound artists, web designers, projectionists, photographers, animators and fine artists. We hope the New Media Resident will be able to use the state of the art digital facilities in the Sackler Centre with the public, in particular in the Digital Studio.
Once the Residents are appointed our work is by no means done. We will liaise with the Resident, Curators and Educators to plan activities for Museum. The chosen artists and makers will need suitable specialist equipment and materials in the studios so that they can make work and we need to ensure that the studio is fitted with everything they require by the time they start. Some of them will need help in finding accommodation in London for the six months of their Residency. The idea is that Dorothy Hogg and the New Media Resident will begin their six month residencies a month before the Sackler Centre opens so that they are settled into their studios by the time the visitors arrive.
We're also continuing to fundraise and are delighted that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation have agreed to fund a further three residencies over three years. It's also time to start planning for the second round of residencies. Also we will soon appoint a Co-ordinator to run this programme.
'Oilcan', Jo Lawrence
November 2007: Appointing the Second Museum Resident - Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
The residency programme is gathering momentum with the appointment of our second artist. There will be a brand new Digital Studio when the Sackler Centre opens and we looked for an artist working in new media who would be able to use our state of the art equipment with the public as well as developing their own work. This residency is sponsored by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation who are supporting three residencies in the Sackler Centre.
New media is a very broad description and, as we found out during the interviews, not a very accurate one but we wanted to keep it as open as possible to different approaches to the residency. We advertised the residency opportunity on our website in September and had a large number of applicants with lots of brilliant ideas for making video art, animation, sound and light installations, short films and much more. It took the best part of three days to agree on a shortlist and there were difficult decisions to take. Eventually we boiled it down to five applicants. We used the same process as in June for the jewellery residency since this had worked very well. The candidates were asked to present their ideas to an invited audience of interested people, both curators and educators, mainly from the V&A. The process helped to gauge the candidates' ability to communicate, which is an essential part of the brief and to gather a variety of viewpoints.
Still from the film 'Zeuxis', Jo Lawrence
Feedback from the presentations was then further explored in interviews with a small panel. Then came the hardest part - we would have liked all of them to work with us - there were so many creative and exciting ideas, but unfortunately we only have one studio on offer at the moment! One of the most important factors for us was how the resident would use this opportunity to work in the V&A and use our collections rather than being in a studio elsewhere.
Eventually we chose Jo Lawrence whose proposal was to produce a collection of short animated films based on the idea of 'cabinets of curiosity' and using the hidden tales and layers of information to be found in the V&A's collections. She will work in the adjoining studio to jeweller Dorothy Hogg, our first craft resident, who was appointed in June. These two artists will help to make the Sackler Centre a dynamic creative space from the moment it opens.
Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office
Catherine Flood, Curator, Word & Image, Member of Project Team
I represent the curatorial collections on the project team and advise on using and displaying museum objects within the centre. We want the museum's collections to be at the heart of visitors' experience of the centre and a case for changing displays is planned for the entrance area. I am curating the first display in this case which looks at the African objects within the V&A's collections.
The Africa related collection at the V&A is a fascinating but very disparate array of objects that is challenging to interpret. When the V&A's collecting patterns were established in the 19th century, prevailing imperial attitudes meant that the cultural productions of sub-Saharan Africa were not actively collected as examples of art and design. Despite this, recent research has shown that a wealth of material relevant to Africa exists within the collections. Putting a range of these objects on display will be a chance to give this research a visible public profile. Audience research has also revealed a strong desire to see the material cultures of the African Diaspora better represented within the V&A; 'why isn't there a gallery dedicated to African art?' is a typical question.
In developing the display it became clear that we needed to find a way to connect and contextualise very varied objects in a way that will be intellectually sound, culturally sensitive and visually dynamic. We therefore commissioned artist/curator Maria Amidu to interpret the objects through an intervention in the case. Maria was chosen on the basis that she has led other high profile cultural projects in leading museums, including the national Maritime Museum's recent Understanding Slavery initiative.
Maria is working on a series of large-scale digital prints in response to the objects which will be displayed with them in the case. Her work explores the kind of space that African objects occupy within the broader collections, addressing the question of how they 'fit' within the Museum. Her starting point has been photography of the objects in store and the physical spaces they leave behind when out on display - demonstrating how the objects live amongst a host of related and unrelated objects.
A group of Learning & Interpretation Division Staff outside the Sackler Centre construction site.
Morna Hinton, Head of Learning Services, Member of Project Team
13 September 2007
The programme development is well underway now. We gathered a huge number of ideas through the consultation phase, which were all put into a massive Excel spreadsheet. There was then a process of whittling down by senior managers and our planning manager to get down to a manageable number of programme types. This was very hard work and at times we needed to get out of the Museum just to concentrate. What became clear was that if we were serious about digital programmes (which we are due to the excellent new facilities in the Digital Studio and throughout the Centre) then we needed to look at the staffing structure of the Learning and Interpretation Division. We also wanted to embed diversity into our core programmes and make them more accessible rather than running parallel programmes aimed at 'hard to reach' audiences. It was, however, with some trepidation that we embarked on a process or restructuring. Such major change is always unsettling however much people support the ideas behind it, which in this case they do seem to.
The restructure was announced a month ago and we are still working through all the ramifications of exactly what people's new roles and responsibilities will be. The old structure had a Learning Section comprising three educator teams (Families and Young People, Formal Education, and Adult Learning). The Access Social Inclusion and Community Development Section had two teams: one for Cultural Diversity and one for Social Inclusion, which included the Museum's Access Officer. The new structure has taken three key diversity staff and formed them into a strategy group to take forward access and inclusion issues across the Museum as well as within our educational programmes. There is now a Learning Programmes Section of two teams: Schools, Families and Young People; and Adults, Students and Creative Industries. Each of these has some access and diversity staff seconded to it. We have then created a new Digital Programmes team from existing staff with appropriate skills.
The challenge now is to get through the 'storming' phase of team building while at the same time producing the first year's programme by 12 October 2007. Watch this space…!
Workmen smoothing the concrete on the newly poured floors of the Sackler Centre
John Proctor, Softroom, Sackler Centre Architects
Pouring the concrete floors, November 2007
One of the main things happening on site in November has been pouring concrete for the floors. There were previously several different floor surfaces in the building reflecting its use as restaurant, shop, gallery etc. The brief for the floors called for a tough easily maintainable finish. After considering many resin-based alternatives we felt that the best value came from a concrete overslab smoothed by a power trowel and then sealed. It forms a hard-wearing, smooth finish that will last. It also unifies the different spaces and adds a contemporary feel.
In the video clip you can see the spaces where the floor is to be poured. First there is the gallery we will use for display, leading up to the residency studios. Second comes the containment for the new concrete staircase and the underside of the auditorium with its raked floor. The concrete arrives in a lorry outside the V&A and is mixed to a precise 'recipe'. A pipe leads into the site and everyone is ready for the hard work of spreading it evenly as soon as it is poured. Then it is levelled out and power trowelled to give a smooth finish - all this has to happen quickly and in sequence before the concrete sets. The result is a beautiful smooth polished concrete floor.
Eyebeam, New York
Anne Fay, Digital Programmes Manager
In preparation for the opening of the digital studio in the Sackler centre, the new Digital Programmes team undertook a research visit to the States to see how our American colleagues were using new media and digital technologies in their educational programming. The week long trip was jam-packed with visits and meetings to ten different museums in New York and Boston.
We found that most of the more interesting work is being done with young people. The majority of the museums we visited had a Youth Advisory Council of some kind to guide them in matters related to youth issues and programming. MoMa (with their Teen Advisory Council) for example, have developed an audio guide aimed specifically at teens. The guide, crucially both written and produced by teenagers, has become the most frequently downloaded audio guide on the MoMA website. The Guggenheim (in their own Sackler Centre for arts education) has a well established digital programme aimed at high school students. The quality of the work produced is incredibly high and the commitment from the students admirable. The New Media Manager opens the digital studio an extra day a week to cope with the demand from both past and current students wanting to continue working on their different projects. It is a model I'd like to see us adopt at the V&A in the future.
While the train journey to Boston was long and tiring it was worth it to visit the ICA, which has an extremely exciting young people's programme. Their digital studio was designed to be used solely by teens and it is incredibly impressive, as are the programmes that come out of it. They run workshops in video, web design, digital photography, animation and pod-casting throughout the year, but the most innovative programme is called Fast Forward. It a year-long after-school film programme, where students work with professional film-makers and media artists to concieve, produce and edit their own work in various genres. Past students have gone on to submit and show their work at various film festivals. Amazingly, the programme is free of charge, although there is a rigourous application and interview process.
Since artist residencies are such as key aspect of the Sackler Centre, it was with great interest that we visited Eyebeam, an art and technology centre which focuses on digital research and experimentation. Central to the ethos of Eyebeam is the atelier system and they have up to 10 artists in residence every year. They work in an open-plan studio environment, behind glass walls, and open studio days encourage the public to interact directly with the artists. We visited on one such open studio day and it was a real pleasure to see the artists in their working environment and to talk to them about their process. It is exciting to think something similar will be happening at the V&A once the Sackler Centre opens.
Pilot digital drop-in event
Irini Papadimitriou, Digital Programmes Team Administrator
Our team's aim is to create programmes that help people explore, learn and be creative with technology but at the same time discover and get inspired by the V&A collections. The Digital Studio will be one of the most exciting spaces of the Sackler Centre, equipped with the latest technology and cutting edge facilities for digital programmes and we are confident it will soon become a technology hub used by visitors of all ages.
Since January our team has been researching and planning digital programmes aimed at a variety of different audiences. We decided to run a few pilot events to help us have a better understanding of how visitors expect to use the Digital Studio and how we can use digital technologies to help people to engage with the collections.
We recently piloted two types of events, one for a group of young people aged between 14 and 17 years of age and a drop-in family event. Both workshops involved digital photography and image manipulation on Photoshop and all participants used the V&A's collections for taking photographs and as inspiration for their finished designs. The group of young people worked with digital artists to design an imaginary landscape poster based on the spectacular works of the China Design Now exhibition and objects from the Museum collections. The visitors at the drop-in event on the other hand, were asked to think about and design their B-Movie Poster inspired by the science fiction and horror movies of the 1950s using V&A objects as their staring point.
Both pilot events have been very useful and we received valuable feedback from all the participants. It was a good opportunity for our team to test some programme models before the opening of the Digital Studio and the outcomes have helped us in deciding how to best make use of our space once the Sackler Centre opens. Inparticular we need to find ways of of digital artists and educators working with larger groups rather than on a one to one basis.
Schools Mural Workshop
Morna Hinton, Head of Learning Services, Member of Project Team
17 April 2008
Seven months on from my last posting about the programme we are looking forward to the Centre’s soft opening in July, followed by the official launch in the autumn. We want to ‘curate’ the programme far more than we have in the past, encouraging teams to work together on four to six major events each year. In the autumn we have the Sackler launch over three days in October as well as a weekend relating to our Cold War Modern exhibition (design from 1945 to 1970) in December. At the moment we are meeting every two weeks to review different aspects of the programme such as the digital and diversity elements as well as seasons and themes.
The Schools, Families and Young People’s team have three main programme strands – Create! for young people, Free Art Fun for families and Design Lab for schools. Staff previously in the Social Inclusion and Diversity teams have been working closely with their new colleagues to develop both an inclusion strand to our young people’s programme, and a Family Festivals strand to Free Art Fun, as well as reviewing our backpacks from a diversity and inclusion perspective. The family programme staff are also developing our brand new Drop-in Design programme, which will replace the existing activity cart.
The Adults, Students and Social Inclusion team have an exciting programme of large-scale events including an ethical fashion day, and a very extensive programme of courses and conferences. The new studio facilities have enabled us to launch a brand-new workshop programme featuring masterclasses with our resident practitioners as well as practical art and design courses. Income-generation through ticket sales is important to finance other aspects of the programme so we’re looking at new term-long courses on subjects such as the history of jewellery and fashion. The team is also running events for mental health service users and has taken on the disability talks programme from the Access officer. In terms of access we are also going to be offering sign interpretation and other support to enable more people to enjoy the main programme, so for example some of our Friday night talks will have BSL interpretation.
The Digital team have been focussing on adults, students and young people, looking at some large-scale drop in events as well as courses and workshops. They have been running a series of pilot events which are helping them explore different ways of delivering digital events in the Sackler Centre as well as trialling some of the activities themselves. These activities have thrown up some interesting issues, such as the logistics of moving from the current situation of having a person or family working one to one with an artist/facilitator to a situation where the facilitator will have to work with four or five people or families at once. The Digital team will also be working closely with the other learning teams, for example on the Create! programme, the Cold War Modern weekend and October half term events.
Click here for details of our current programme .
Building the ramp
Caroline Lang , Sackler Centre Project Manager
Last summer, when I first wrote a list of all the tasks we would need to do after the Centre was handed over from the contractor and before we could open it, it felt a very long way off and a bit unreal. Now that we are a few weeks from opening to the public it has proved very worthwhile to have planned ahead.
Over the following few months the Project Team discussed and refined the list. We grouped it according to tasks that could be done 'pre- handover 'such as choosing furniture, planning the displays, signage and wayfinding and what was needed to install all of this once we had possession of the site. When we were happy that everything was included the tasks were entered onto a Project Plan spreadsheet in Microsoft Project with start and end dates for each one and the names of those who were responsible for carrying them out. It ran to more than 10 pages of A3 and although it looked incredibly daunting at first it has allowed us to monitor progress, to see how the different tasks impact on one another and to ensure that people and resources are available when they are needed. This has been an invaluable planning tool for the past year.
Inevitably the dates have slipped and been adjusted several times and there have been delays in the construction process which have meant constant amendments. However the existence of the Project Plan has made us feel much more confident when these things have happened and has helped us to get back on track each time there has been a setback.
Now that we are beginning the installation part of the plan we know that all those involved have completed the 'pre - handover' tasks and have planned for the next stage. The effectiveness of the Project Plan is about to be severely put to the test over the next three weeks. Originally we had allocated six weeks to move everything into the Centre and to test and pilot equipment and operating systems. Because of delays on site we will now actually have little more than two. We have to be ready to open to the public on July 18 for a young peoples' conference and exhibition called Image and Identity. Let's hope the Plan works!
Karine and Jonathan
Caroline Lang , Sackler Centre Project Manager
Many of the organisations we spoke to early on in our research told us that opening a new learning centre without the resources to manage it as a distinct entity had been problematic. We have two and a half times more space dedicated to education than we had before which means an expanded programme with many new types of activity. The Manager not only co-ordinates all the activities of the Centre and ensures that it runs smoothly at an operation level but also that it achieves our aim of creating a friendly, accessible and welcoming environment in which to learn. We recognise that the Centre is a significant asset to the Museum and to London and we will hire out spaces with the aim of generating maximum additional income. Each space may therefore have several changes of use in one day.
It was clear that efficient management of the Sackler Centre would be a crucial success factor and a new post of Sackler Centre Manager was therefore in our business plan from the start. Over the months when the Centre has been under construction budgets have been getting ever tighter and some creative thinking was needed before we could advertise this new role. The reorganisation of the Learning and Interpretation Division last summer, the subject of an earlier diary entry, and a vacant post gave us this opportunity.
The new Manager, Karine Lepeuple, joined us in February 2008, 6 months before opening.
'Being involved with the Sackler Centre is a fabulous opportunity to champion design and creativity, something that I feel very passionate about. The Sackler Centre is a stunningly beautiful space with cutting-edge technology and, what's more, there is nothing like it in London! My role is to ensure that all our visitors - from all ages and backgrounds - have an enjoyable and truly inspiring experience and I very much look forward to welcoming them in the Sackler Centre.'
The other new post that we felt was essential is that of IT Technician, to join our existing AV team. We are significantly increasing the amount of programming using digital technologies and the equipment needs to be set up and maintained. Jonathan Pawley joined us in May. He is primarily responsible for the Apple Mac equipment in the Digital Studio and for supporting our new Digital Team in running programmes there.
'I am really excited that the Sackler Centre will be opening soon; my role will be to ensure the equipment in the Digital Studio is in working order, as well as supporting the staff and public who use it. So far I have been involved in finalising the equipment order and selecting software and am getting to know how the new spaces will operate. At the moment I am helping the Museum Residents to become accustomed to the equipment, as well as understanding what the Learning and Interpretation teams have planned for the activities and events they will run. My next task will be to help install the iMacs and software for the Digital Studio and provide training for staff using the new equipment for the first set of activities in July.
'My next task will be to help install the IMacs and software in the digital studio as well as provide training to staff on how to use the equipment in time for the first set of activities at the end of July.'
MP Margaret Hodge attending the Image and Identity Youth Conference and Exhibition Private View at the newly opened Sackler Centre on 18 July 2008
Caroline Lang, Sackler Centre Project Manager
The Sackler Centre is open to the public!
The Sackler Centre was originally due to open in March 2008 but quite early on in the construction phase it was agreed that July 2008 would be more realistic as it is quite a complex building. We've decided to have a 'soft' launch initially. We opened to the public after the Image & Identity Conference was held there on July 18. For the next few months our summer programme will be running in the Sackler Centre spaces enabling us to try them out with the public and iron out any problems.
The Image & Identity exhibition of young peoples' work can be seen on Level 1 throughout the summer. Our Museum Residents are holding open studios on Friday 25 July, Saturday 2 & Sunday 3, Fridays 8, 15,& 22 August, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7, Fridays 12,19 &26 September 2008 from 14.00 to 17.30.
Adult courses and workshops as well as events for families and young people are taking place throughout the summer, and we have a packed programme lined up for the autumn. See the Events and Activities section of the website for details. Please come to have a look at this brand new facility.
The official opening is on 30 September 2008 and this will be followed by the public launch weekend, Designerama on 24, 25 and 26 October 2008 to coincide with half-term.