Last month, the Victoria and Albert Museum announced drastic cuts to its personnel as part of a restructure of its departments. The curatorial departments based on material specialism will be transformed into new cross-disciplinary teams, focused on time period or geography.
To combat a “mounting deficit,” director Tristram Hunt told The Art Newspaper, the museum is cutting 140 of its 980 jobs, including 30 curatorial posts and 110 from a number of departments including visitor experience and retail.
The European and North and South American collections will now become one department with three chronologically divided subdivisions: medieval through late eighteenth century; the nineteenth century to 1918; and modern and contemporary. Another department will be created that covers sub-Saharan Africa and African diaspora art, design and performance and the Asian collections.
“The curators will be more stretched, it’s true, but I hope the chronological approach will lead to more synergies between them,” Hunt told The Art Newspaper, noting that the museum’s curatorial staff will continue to outnumber that of the Tate and the British Museum and most European institutions.
Insiders expressed their concerns to The Guardian, saying that “It’s hollowing out the expertise of the museum. Experienced technicians who are invisible to the executive board of the museum are going. Very experienced conservators are leaving or have left. Some conservators and curators have already left on voluntary terms. The next wave is forced redundancies.”
As part of the restructure, the institution was also planning to close its National Art Library (NAL) for a year and merge it with the V&A Research Institute and V&A Archives into one centralized, expanded research facility. The plans meant that two thirds of staff at the NAL (20 posts) were at risk. An online petition, signed by more than 10.000 people, has led the V&A to change its mind.
Update: We understand all three curators of paintings are leaving this month, reducing the section to a single assistant curator.
Update 2: According to the Art Newpaper, the V&A decided to revise its restructuring plan and keep the collection organized around mediums instead of switching to a chronological approach.