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Happy 150!
By John Allan
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses more than 2000 years worth of artefacts from the world’s richest cultures, yet is in a perpetual state of evolution and development with new exhibitions regularly occurring throughout its vast building in London’s South Kensington, where it has been since 1857.

In recent years, the V&A has had groundbreaking and unique exhibits, most notably in the sphere of fashion, with major retrospectives of the designers Vivienne Westwood and Gianni Versace and exceptional displays like Radical Fashion in 2001, which explored more conceptual ideas and installations of clothing design.

In 2004 the V&A was the first gallery to have an exhibition dedicated to the impact Black British Style has had on British culture, a move that can dispel any notion held that museums and galleries are “out of touch” with contemporary, modern society.

This summer the V&A was involved with the London-wide celebration of Indian culture, ‘India Now’ and staged a free fashion show of the designer Manish Arora as well as other family themed events.

In June this year, the V&A celebrated its 150th Anniversary, around the time when the shadow culture secretary, Hugo Swire, announced in an interview with the Mail on Sunday that the Tory party propose to reintroduce admission fees to museums and galleries, something the Labour Government had scrapped six years ago. Visitor numbers to museums and galleries have more than doubled at some of the countries best artistic and cultural attractions since admission to them became free, opening the doors to people who might not have been able to afford attending them before 2001; entrance figures to the V&A are up 122%.

The announcement has sparked a lively debate between artists, politicians, teachers and members of the general public. The then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, said “This would be a seriously regrettable step if the Tories were to go down this road. It would be unpopular and would penalise people from all walks of life”.

The V&A prides itself in the fact that it was founded to educate working people and to inspire British designers, artists and manufacturers with the wealth of its collections of art, in almost every medium from all over the world.

For its anniversary, the V&A has asked 150 leading designers, architects, photographers, fashion designers and artists to contribute a page to their anniversary album, conveying in words and images what they find most inspiring about the V&A. Contributions have come from luminaries such as shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, fashion designers Matthew Williamson and Paul Smith, musician Nitin Sawhney, artist Michael Craig Martin and photographer Corrine Day. Selected designs are available to buy as prints from the V&A website () with the money going towards supporting the next 150 years, and more, of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

To view all the 150 contributions to the anniversary album, visit

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