Theatre Museum collection may be threatened again by V&A cuts

Published: 4 March 2021
Reporter: David Chadderton

V&A exterior Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As part of a drive to save £10 million, London's Victoria and Albert Museum is to break up its current departments and the curatorial team that looks after the collection from the former Theatre Museum, which was owned by the V&A but closed its Covent Garden premises in 2007.

We understand that the current Department of Theatre and Performance is to be dissolved and that its curators will be scattered across new departments: Europe and the Americas: Medieval to Revolution, Europe and the Americas: Long Nineteenth Century, Europe and the Americas: Modern and Contemporary and African and Asian Cultures.

However, the Museum's Director, Tristram Hunt, insists that, "no area of the collection will be left without specialist support... These proposals will impact how our collections teams work together but will not change our gallery spaces or visitor experience at the V&A—dedicated rooms and galleries for Ceramics, Photography, Sculpture, Paintings, Architecture, Fashion (and so on) will be there for all to enjoy for years to come." It is assumed that the former Theatre and Performance collection is included in "and so on".

On the research facilities, which were an important element of the original Theatre Museum, Hunt said, "we are also proposing to establish one centralised, expanded research function by uniting the V&A Research Institute with the National Art Library and the V&A Archives."

After a battle and a fundraising campaign involving some high-profile figures and institutions from the theatre world in 2006 and the collapse of a plan to partner with the Royal Opera House, The Theatre Museum closed in January 2007 and its collections were transferred to its parent museum in Kensington. There were criticisms at the time, as with the current plans, that the V&A trustees made the decision without any consultation with museum users or the theatre world and the campaign continued for a short while after the closure.

On postponing a fundraising performance in February 2007, campaigner Marc Sinden for the Guardians of the Theatre Museum campaign group said that "the Theatre Museum has now closed its doors ahead of its intended closure date and that the V&A have now dug their heels in about fighting any attempts to seek a judicial review or to consider reopening the Museum."

Fellow former Guardian of the Theatre Museum Ian Herbert said of the current plans to The Stage newspaper that the contribution of these collections to the V&A’s success was "hard to ignore," adding, "the work of the theatre collection’s curators and staff is absolutely essential for the ongoing history of our theatre, and the splendid exhibitions are but the tip of an enormous research iceberg."