Project duration: 2017 – 2020
Project lead: Sandra Smith, Head of Conservation, V&A
Internally seconded V&A co-leads: TBA
Two open nomination fellowships: TBA


The V&A has a strong reputation as an innovator in the conservation, display and interpretation of objects, but there are many good reasons to experiment and innovate in this area. Researching and trialling new modes, methods and meanings for access to collections will mean thinking about experiencing both collections and our knowledge of them in ways that go beyond the age-old museum tightrope of 'access versus preservation'.

Supporting our visitors to be participatory 'research curators' in their own right will mean finding new ways of enabling the access we can give to our objects, making our own knowledge more visible, and intersecting analogue and digital in much more meaningful ways.

Taking a fresh look at traditional forms of museum display and interpretation, this project will help design experimental strategies to increase interactivity and engage the senses of the visitor. Experiencing V&A collections goes far beyond close quarters with individual objects, and we plan to experiment with radical new options for large-scale visible and accessible storage as well as looking at how the Big Data of our collections information databases can become more 'social'. We will develop sustainable exhibition models and social media practices designed to be implemented in the Museum and exportable to a wide variety of different institutional and social contexts (including pop-up shows and mobile displays).

All of this will build on areas where the V&A has carried out leading research in environmental monitoring, scientific analysis of designed objects, and collections management systems, and extend these into new fields and functions. We will consult with and appoint research fellows to review current practices and explore new technologies, looking beyond the museum world to investigate customer supply chains for example, as well as innovative data configurations.

As we plan new storage facilities and new galleries in London and elsewhere, we can create active and visitor-driven contact with collections and design experiences that take place in a range of contexts – both physical and virtual. The project leads and fellows will work collaboratively, as well as with postgraduate students, to deliver several experimental temporary displays and to formulate an exportable toolkit of tested innovations.

Vari show
Child’s wardrobe, Edmund Joy (maker), 1712, England. Museum no. W.36-1930. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London