MA questions the siting of “Olympicopolis”

Patrick Steel, 10.12.2013
New V&A branch proposed in east London
A multi-million pound project, dubbed “Olympicopolis”, which would see the V&A and University College London (UCL) open branches on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, was given Treasury backing last week, as part of the National Infrastructure Plan announced by the chancellor.

The V&A site will host objects from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as providing space for temporary and touring exhibitions and a research and conservation centre.

UCL’s plans include a new centre for culture and heritage, a design school, a biotech hub, an educational technology centre, and a space for entrepreneurs.

The hope is that the project will attract other institutions and businesses to the site, and link to Tech City and iCITY’s network of East London-based digital companies.

But some are questioning the decision to create another national museum site in London.

Maurice Davies, the Museums Association’s (MA) head of policy and communications, said: “Increasing access to the V&A's collection and exhibitions is welcome. But I wonder whether London is the most appropriate place for a new venture.

“Recently there's been great concern about the serious imbalance between cultural funding and provision in London and in the rest of the country. I wonder whether the V&A has properly taken that into account.”

A V&A spokeswoman said: “The V&A is excited to have been offered the opportunity to be part of this. The museum's involvement is driven by an ambition to make the V&A matter more to more people.

"We have a very active programme around the country including partnerships with museums and galleries in Coventry and Sheffield, touring exhibitions and loans, and of course the new museum of design that we are building in Dundee.

“We have agreed in principle to be involved in the Olympic Park development subject to future feasibility studies.”

Decisions on cost and staffing had not yet been made yet, she added.

The V&A is now working with the government, UCL, and the Mayor of London’s office to establish a detailed business case and funding arrangements, while talks with other institutions to explore tie-ins with UCL and the V&A are to be held in 2014.

The “Olympicopolis” announcement follows the publication of a report last month by King’s College London, supported by Legacy Trust UK, calling for the creation of a consortium body to lead, direct and deliver the Olympic legacy.

The report drew on a survey of 2,000 UK adults carried out by Legacy Trust UK that found 62% of the UK public would like to see arts and culture routinely programmed as an integrated element of major events, and more needs to be done to integrate culture into the planning and delivery of major events.


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Oliver Green
MA Member
13.12.2013, 15:36
Complaining about big bad London winning all the pies and the regions getting nothing but the crumbs of culture is a bit pointless.
Yes, London does get more than its 'fair' share of pretty well everything in this country: good public transport, new infrastructure, the best media coverage,the most visits from overseas, influential access to public and private financial resources through the Mayor and the City etc etc.
All the evidence suggests that London will become ever more dominant and successful while most of the English regions go into relative decline with less national influence or local power than ever before.
Let's not pretend there will be any serious rebalancing of this scale for culture and heritage alone.
But please, let's not follow the approach of the Louvre in creating a branch of a major national museum in a deprived and remote part of the country.
This is a typically French approach to grand projets and gesture politics. Big new builds look impressive to begin with but may not achieve visitor targets in a remote location, and may either soon get run down or become a financial millstone with a questionable future. The NRM's Locomotion at Shildon in County Durham, less than ten years old, is a worrying instance of this.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
11.12.2013, 17:32
It's good to know someone has been reading October's Rebalancing our Cultural Capital. But then Maurice Davies spoke about it when it was released. Could he speak more loudly, please?
82% of private arts philanthropy goes to London; DCMS + ACE benefit per head of population in London compared with the rest of England is 15 times greater. Paris has put its new Louvre in Lens, in the old mining area of northern France. Time for the same approach here?