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  • Signage in Museums – the @V_and_A Debate

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    April 24th, 2016mardixonCulture, International
    A ban on pencils … the V&A now forbids sketching in its temporary exhibitions. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian

    Credit Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian

    Ok, I’m sure everyone at this point saw the sign with the article ”No sketching’: V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for‘ by Oliver Wainwright

    I was with Mark Macleod (from The Infirmary Museum) and Silvia Filippini Fantoni (from the IMA) when Silvia first saw the picture but held off on sharing it until I read the article. I then tweeted it.

    And the storm was started. (See Storify here.)

    First of all, as Oliver probably wanted, it was total click bait worth title but honestly many of the people responding didn’t read the whole article. I soon spent my day almost defending the Victoria and Albert as it turns out, it’s not the WHOLE of V&A being asked not to sketch, but instead a temporary exhibition.

    Further discussions (including one with the Tim Reeves Deputy Director COO at V&A) it wasn’t due to the flow of the public (as also originally stated in the article) but loan agreement. Usually what that means is a private collector stipulates certain things in order for the museum to have them on loan.

    Now – I don’t agree with the loan agreement of no sketching. But I don’t understand the whole ‘no photograph’ thing either. However, when it comes to something with fashion, it’s all about sketching a design first to recreate the design. As the temp exhibition in question is the Brief encounters: Undressed at the V&A

    Here is the thing – this was a pretty rough twitter storm for the V&A on Friday with people who haven’t bothered to read the whole article – or even read past the title. Even those who did read the article were met originally with some information that was a little inaccurate so jump to conclusions. There were cries of boycott and guerrilla drawing.

    When did we become that society that doesn’t bother to listen to the other side before making a decision? How can we prevent this? I know it’s naive of me to even dream of changes but really, the mirror needs to be held up at times.

    Source:uglyskwid

    Source:uglyskwid

    My question to people was ‘what is the compromise we can make’? Knowing now there are restrictions out of the control of the venue/museum – what can we do/say to help them know we really want to share, either with photos or sketches or whatever? Making demands isn’t the right answer. Yes we need to let them know we care and love the collection. We want to make memories in our own way and see the collection in a way we’re comfortable with. We also understand they have issues but if they are honest about them on the signage, wouldn’t that be better ?

    On Signage, I’d like to add this quote from Mark:

    Mark: Why don’t people realise it’s better to say what can do!! The amount of no smoking signs on buildings is example of wasted money. For the donations box we never say “please don’t be stingy” or maybe we should?

    There’s a whole other discussion that is needed about the need for museums to start being run as a business more but perhaps another time. However, it is a bit related in that originally the concept that no sketching was allowed was due to keep the foot flow of people coming in and out faster to make more money (which was not the case).

    However, it brought the discussion that some people feel museums should be museums. Yes, yes I agree but in the perfect world, chocolate wouldn’t make us fat, and trains would be cheap. But that’s not the world we live in. Museums and creative sector are being forced by cuts to make hard decisions. Now the good museums discuss it with the public and listen to what changes they are happy to make to ensure the museum’s sustainability in the future.

    There is an ownership on the public to also voice their opinion and not just when there are issues. This goes for libraries, art galleries and theatres too. We can not complain if we aren’t using them. And when we do use, we should give our feedback (trust me, they are always asking!). When is the last time you filled out a form?

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1 responses to “Signage in Museums – the @V_and_A Debate” RSS icon

  • Jacob de Graaf

    This debate is really interesting – though blown out of proportion massively by several media outlets, I do think the V&A is in the wrong of displaying items with such a loan agreement. By allowing such loan agreements, it opens the door to further, more strict agreements.

    The V&A should simply have said ‘no’ to this agreement against sketching. I also don’t believe that this will work out at all for those owning the original items: there will be photographs out there, in catalogues or on the web, and if they are really that bothered about their precious items being copied they should simply store it away in a safe, without any prying eyes.

    Yes, you are completely right that this has been blown out of proportion. But I think most of the upset and unfairness that people feel is justified, in that a museum that is there for a great part to teach, should allow its visitors to take (sketched) notes with them.


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