How might we … involve innovative thinkers of today to shape learning for the future?



November 5, 2018
‘Rewilding with Synthetic Biology’ from Designing for the Sixth Extinction, 2013 – 15 © Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

Just as designers innovate to meet the changing needs of users, so must the Learning team at the V&A. In our attitude to work and the programmes in our portfolio, we strive to be relevant and responsive to learner needs, and the multiple, dynamic contexts that help shape our programmes. To do this we need to be outward-facing, so that the V&A becomes a space for forward thinking and a test site for new ideas. But where do ideas come from and how do we nurture them?

We are constantly reading, watching, discussing and questioning outputs from many different disciplines in order to help us think creatively and approach museum learning from new angles. This video by Transom is well worth 5 mins of your time. Do ideas ‘flip one piece at a time into you’ as film-maker David Lynch purports? Or instead is your position more a la Chuck Close ‘inspiration is for amateurs … the rest of us just show up and get to work’. And, if the latter, what might that form of ideas generation work look like?

Being open to new ideas means connecting with innovative thinkers and practitioners (I think you can’t be the latter without being the former), and creating opportunities to embed them in our programmes. It also means putting fuel in our own tanks. One of the core purposes of Learning at the V&A is to be a powerful resource that inspires the next generation of creative thinkers, innovators, designers, entrepreneurs and creators. We need to pull in creative leaders from a range of disciplines – beyond the creative and cultural sectors – to inform, influence and disrupt existing ways of working.

The Future Starts Here exhibition is proving hugely popular with audiences because of its take on innovation, and its argument for the essential role of design and creativity from a range of disciplines in helping equip us for life in a fast-changing world. Hosted by the exhibition’s co-curator Mariana Pestana, a recent Future Series event closed the season of talks by bringing together Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Nicholas Masterton and Priya Prakash to share projects that are, at their core, trying to change the future through design – for example through Ginsberg’s synthesis of bio- and info- tech to reanimate extinct flowers.

On an individual level, I’m frequently asking my teams how they are keeping themselves inspired and challenged in their work  – and how we can bring in brilliant, challenging thinkers into our programmes and events, to diversify, expand and enrich our content, and to provide more points of connection and relevance. We recently announced our FuturePlan capital project for the Museum of Childhood. Our vision is to reinvent the museum to be a powerful driver for creative confidence. One of the first things we did was to hold a big brainstorm at Toynbee Studios, inviting in leaders from a range of disciplines to help inform and shape our thinking. From artists, educators and child psychologists, to designers and policy-makers, this multidisciplinary approach is just the beginning of shaping Learning at the V&A into a national platform for the national debate on design education in its broadest sense.

As the saying goes, ‘none of us is as smart as all of us’. In staying true to our vision to re-invent museum learning at the V&A for the 21st century, to help meet the needs of a fast changing world, who else might we connect with and why? Please leave any suggestions in the comments.

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