If you search the V&A’s collections for ‘Glastonbury’ you get an earthenware bowl, a woollen coat, a pair of chairs by the great 19th-century designer Pugin and some atmospheric photographs of the ruined Abbey. No famous musicians, no maps of stages and loos, no protest posters, no wellies, no mud.
All that is about to change as the world’s oldest and largest museum of art and design becomes the new home for the archive of the world’s longest-running popular music and performing arts festival. Thanks to our blockbuster show on David Bowie last year, that no longer sounds bizarre: the V&A is now known for guitars and glitter as well as silver and ceramics. But the two institutions, as it happens, have much more than Bowie in common. The V&A also grew out of a radical gathering of cultures and creative making (the Great Exhibition of 1851), and it became the first museum to feature a restaurant, artificial lighting and an in-house photo studio. Its founders saw their collections as ‘the true teachers of a free people’–just as Michael Eavis made this festival an enduring and inspiring place for ‘the expression of free-thinking people’.
The Glastonbury Festival archive will help to make the V&A a museum for the 21st Century, and the V&A will help to preserve the legacy of Glasto: they will help new generations of cultural pilgrims to appreciate the powers of imagination and the vitality of ancient ideals.