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Design Museum


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(established 1989)

The origins of this enterprise lay in the Boilerhouse Project at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ran from 1982 to 1987. A showcase for modern design, the Boilerhouse was directed by Stephen Bayley and supported by the Conran Foundation. It mounted a prolific number of exhibitions, addressing such complex issues as ‘Taste’ and the use of carrier bags as symbols of consumption as well as popular shows on Memphis furniture, Sony products, and youth culture. Attracting 1.5 million visitors the Boilerhouse demonstrated the public interest in the exhibition of consumer products, past, present, and future. From 1989 the Project came to maturity with the move to the Design Museum in Butler's Wharf, London, a 1950s building adapted for use as a gallery of modern design by Conran Roche, architectural planners. The aim was to have a permanent collection and study facilities, complemented by in‐house and touring exhibitions. The inaugural show, Commerce and Culture, was opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a symbolic link with government which was not followed up financially in funding terms until 1999/2000. However, other partnerships with government departments were broached, including a design promotion exhibition organized for the Department of Trade and Industry in Hong Kong (1992), Bahrein (1994), and Korea (1994), and a series of initiatives with the Department of Education and Employment. Soon after its inauguration Bayley left as director and was replaced by Helen Rees, who left in 1992. This was a difficult time for the museum as it was widely criticized for the display and selection of its collection and a period of funding difficulties led to a number of job losses. However, building on links that had been developed with the educational sector, the Dyson Centre for Design Education and Training was opened in 1997 as a means of furthering the educational objectives of the museum. In 1999 James Dyson succeeded the museum's founder Sir Terence Conran as chairman and a brighter and more secure future seemed assured. However, despite industrial sponsorship and links with government departments, the Design Museum's location perhaps resulted in its limited success in terms of visitor numbers. Indeed, for the first decade of its new life as the Design Museum at Butler's Wharf, its total visitor numbers still remained considerably lower than in the four years of its earlier life as the Boilerhouse at the V&A. Plans have been set in place to revitalize and further extend the museum's exhibition space in the early 21st century.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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