Oral History in the Visual Arts
CCW/ V&A Oral History Research collaboration
In September 2009, Dr Linda Sandino in association with CCW and the V&A initiated the CCW/V&A oral history of curating at the Victoria & Albert Museum. As an historian of the applied arts familiar with the V&A, Linda chose to base her research in the Museum because it encompasses diverse areas of expertise across the arts and design. The interviews also cover key shifts in the Museum’s identity: from a Department of Education and Science museum to Trustee status in 1983, as well as subsequent restructurings that have led to its transformation from its post-war days, when “it was a bit like the army”, to its current incarnation in the 21st century.
The detailed interviews cover all aspects of curatorial responsibilities and experience in order to provide a substantial resource for scholars studying the history of museums, their collections, exhibitions, the impact of government strategies, as well as museum personnel. Curators’ narratives also reflect on issues of gender, class and other subject identity formations. The advantage of using a life history method is that it demonstrates how narrative functions to create, foster and sustain communities, to grasp the V&A in Pierre Nora’s terms as both ‘milieu [and] lieu de mémoire’ .
The recordings and related documents will come under the responsibility of the V&A Archive for access to staff and researchers, as well as being disseminated through publications, V&A events and its Online Museum. Future projects include 'Artists work in museums: histories, interventions and subjectivity', ( 12- 13 October, 2012) a conference co-convened by Dr Linda Sandino (CCW/V&A) and Matilda Pye (V&A) at the V&A Sackler Centre in association with the Museums and Galleries History Group. This conference brings together artists, curators, historians and museum professionals to explore the history and impact of artists working as members of staff in museums, examining the diverse, often hidden ways museums and galleries function as environments of cultural and identity production. The conference builds on the oral history research at the V&A, an institution formed by the contribution of artists and designers since it was established in the 19th century.
Image: V&A Circulation Department c. 1954. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum.