V&A visits hit all time high


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The Independent Culture

Last year the V&A had the most visits in its 155-year history, as the demand for cultural exhibitions in the UK continues to soar.

There were more than 3.3 million visits to the museum’s sites between April 2011 and the end of March this year, the second consecutive year of record numbers.

Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said it was “thriving” and the high visitor numbers “demonstrate the huge public interest in design, craft and the decorative arts”.

The majority – 2.8 million – visited the site in South Kensington, a tenth higher than a year earlier. The visits to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green rose 5 per cent to 443,000. “It’s the variety of the exhibitions that have attracted people,” Mr Roth said. “It’s all about creativity and innovation.”

The past 12 months has seen huge demand for exhibitions in the UK, with galleries including the Royal Academy and National Portrait Gallery opening late to keep up with demand for blockbuster shows by artists including David Hockney and Lucian Freud. “We are in the golden age of museums and galleries,” Mr Roth said.

He took over as the head of the V&A in September replacing Sir Mark Jones who left the institution after a decade. Mr Roth, who had been director general of the Dresden State Art Collections, said: “This success of record visitor is largely down to Mark and the staff. This is really something.”

The museum, which is free but also has paid for exhibitions, is benefiting from its programme of restoration and overhaul. The so-called FuturePlan will continue, with the museum hopeful to finish the new space on Exhibition Road by 2016. Mr Roth said: “The whole aura and atmosphere has changed. That has been happening over the past decade.”

There has also been a series of successful exhibitions including one focusing on postmodernism, which had 115,000 visits, and the Cult of Beauty exhibition brought in 138,000. Yet, the most popular of the year, and the most popular free exhibition ever staged at the V&A was Power of Making, a joint exhibition with the Crafts Council with 320,000 visits.

The V&A was founded in South Kensington in 1857 and was designed to inspire British designers. Last year over 40 per cent of the visitors were working, teaching or studying in the creative industries.

Mr Roth said there was an on-going shift towards the British demand for cultural exhibitions and shows. “London is the global city of aesthetics, architecture and designers. It is a city of creativity.” He continued: “I think there has been a shift with people heading to galleries and museums and it will continue.”