V&A hopes Here East will be the watershed for museum storage - Museums Association

V&A hopes Here East will be the watershed for museum storage

Facility will transform how the collection is experienced, reflecting improvements to storage facilities across the sector. By Rob Sharp
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Rob Sharp
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) hopes its collection and research centre Here East will herald a fresh era in museum storage.

The V&A unveiled plans last month for its new home for 250,000 objects and 917 archives at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, claiming it will “reinvent the idea of a museum store” by spanning the breadth of the institution’s design, fashion and furniture collections.

V&A deputy director Tim Reeve says the V&A East will shed light on the entire lifecycle of museum practice and will revolutionise how people experience the collection. A central public collection hall will display items from the V&A’s collection on rotation, while performances, workshops and pop-up exhibitions will be used to showcase work.

The V&A’s plans reflect improvements being made to museum storage facilities across the sector. Jenny Crothall, collections storage and access manager at Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG), says: “Historically, museum storage has been the poor cousin, suffering from underfunding, which is a key issue. Many museums face challenges around space and inappropriate buildings for housing their collections, which puts collections at risk through overcrowding and restricted space for access and handling.”  

RMG’s upgraded storage facilities at the Prince Philip Maritime Collection Centre in south-east London opened this year. The facility has environmentally controlled rooms and specialised racking for its collections in 4,200sq m of space across two floors.  

“We have designed and built stores that very much incorporate public access into their design, and we have found a balance between long-term preservation and access,” says Crothall.  

Rob Lewis, the collections care manager at Birmingham Museums Trust, says a shortage of space and poorly arranged historic buildings, with problems such as lack of vehicular access, are among the key storage issues for his organisation. Less than 10% of the trust’s collection is on display, so improving public access is a priority.

The trust has recently completed a concept design for an off-site facility that will have all its collections under one roof, making them easier to manage. The site in Yardley, east Birmingham, will become Birmingham Museums’ headquarters, housing the back-office, curatorial, conservation and technical teams when it opens in 2021.  

“We will have much more public access, and will be sustainable in terms of the environmental and financial impact,” says Lewis. “It will improve the logistics, so we can take collections in and out and service them, increasing accessibility. Up until now, museums have thought ‘this is my stuff, I’m going to store it in my building’. What we’ve found is that there are an awful lot of partnership opportunities.”  

Lewis says the trust caring for the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive is a good example of this. The organisation is open to further partnership opportunities, as part of this new capital development.  

“There are a lot of people who are interested in this idea of colocation and shared resources which, from my perspective, makes sense. Everyone needs the same functionality, so there’s a lot of potential value in that. There’s something in the idea of providing a service and storage solution to the museums service that doesn’t exist yet.” 

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