Interview: Museum of the Year 2016

We caught up with Tim Reeve, the V&A's deputy director and chief operating officer to find out what it’s like to win the prestigious prize, plus get his hot tips for success.

Victoria and Albert Museum staff with artist Yinka Shonibare (third from right) © Rankin

Victoria and Albert Museum staff with artist Yinka Shonibare (third from right)

Why do you think the judges awarded the V&A the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year title?

Obviously we were fortunate enough to have one or two really 'headline-grabbing' achievements last year – from the reveal of the elegant and stylish new and expanded Europe 1600-1815 galleries, to the record-breaking Alexander McQueen retrospective, Savage Beauty, with the award-winning Fabric of India exhibition in the second half of the year – and this added up to our most successful year ever in terms of audiences and participation. As importantly, though, I think the panel were impressed by the innovation that they witnessed during their visit, and that this and our ambitious plans for the future demonstrate that we’re a forward-facing institution.

What was your favourite part of being a finalist?

It was thrilling being a finalist, and it was fascinating for all of us to get to know more about the other finalists – particularly those who were less well known to us. The wonderful diversity and richness of the UK’s arts and cultural scene is there for all to see, and the prize gives us all an excellent illustration of amazing museum practice across the country. It’s been a privilege to be shortlisted alongside them, and it’s been uplifting.

Have you felt the impact of winning at the museum?

It’s put a real spring in the step of staff and volunteers right across the Museum, and immense pride in winning the largest art prize in the world. There’s been a tangible buzz around the V&A since the announcement, and this coming at a time of change and some uncertainty for many who work here. We’ve also had fantastic feedback from museum colleagues and visitors, in person, on social media or by writing in, to congratulate us and relay how proud they are of us winning which has been incredibly rewarding. We’re a big museum, but make no mistake, this means a huge amount to us.

What’s the secret to the V&A’s success?

We have an absolutely commitment to quality in everything we do, whether it’s as a centre of excellence for research or in enhancing our reputation for innovative, surprising and immersive exhibitions. The museum strikes a dynamic balance between the traditional and the cutting edge and we like to try new things, to take some calculated risks, in order to connect with our audiences and to run a sustainable institution. Above all, the extraordinary
commitment and expertise of our staff and volunteers – from across the world – make us the wonderful museum that we are.

Any tips or advice for museums planning to enter next year?

Go for it. Honestly, I think there can be a tendency in cultural institutions, which can be very complex and where the pace is often frenetic, to lose sight of the exceptional work that is making a real difference to people’s lives. Almost as if the years are indistinguishable one from another. Find time to sit back and really reflect on what you’ve achieved and what you have planned, and if you think it adds up to an experience of which you’re truly proud you should apply. If you do apply, be completely committed and whole-hearted, from top to bottom, and take care over the little details which always make the difference.

Any plans for how you will spend the £100,000 prize?

As Martin Roth said at the prize giving ceremony, we want to use the money to rediscover the spirit of the V&A’s legendary Circulation Department, which shared the best contemporary design with regional museums, galleries and art colleges, until its closure in 1976. It was an amazing idea. We don’t want to copy it, but we do what to find a way – in consultation with regional partners – to redefine it for the 21st century. We do a great deal nationally – with exhibitions, loans, the ACE-V&A Purchase Grant Fund, guardianship of the Wedgwood Collection, and so on – but this idea of circulating our collections in line with the V&A’s purpose as a teaching museum, is what we want to focus on.

Has anything surprising happened as a result of winning?

We’ve had a few people who actually worked in the original Circulation Department asking if they can have their old jobs back – but I think they were joking!

Watch a film exploring the highlights of the V&A and read the judges' comments on the Museum of the Year finalists.

Get 50% off major exhibitions at the V&A with a National Art Pass and read our must-see objects at the museum's new Europe 1600-1815 Galleries.


 

Venue details

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) Cromwell Road London SW7 2RL 020 7942 2000 www.vam.ac.uk

Entry details

50% off with National Art Pass

Daily, 10am – 5.45pm (Fri until 10pm)

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