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Victoria & Albert Museum

Letters: Does the V&A still believe in education?

The Association of Art Historians on the National Slide Library's proposed move from London to Leicester

The National Art Slide Library, housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum since about 1898, though initially a staff resource, has for many years provided an invaluable publicly available source of slides for the teaching of art and design history in London and the South East. It has provided a service to art historians from many areas: schools, A-level teaching, adult education, colleges and polytechnics. The Association of Art Historians is worried that the intended closure of the National Art Slide Library in London will have severely damaging effects upon the teaching of art and design history at all levels in the region which the National Slide Library has hitherto served.

It is understood that the National Art Slide Library will be closed completely for a period of eighteen months from April 1992, to re-open at Leicester Polytechnic in September 1993. This proposal causes grave concern about the situation of art and design historians who are regular users of the Slide Library during the period of total closure. Resources in the field of art and design education are already considerably stretched in London and the Home Counties, and there are no readily available alternative sources of slides in London which will be able to help those who have been regular users of the National Art Slide Library. The proposal to re-open the National Art Slide Library in Leicester raises a number of long-term difficulties for users of the Slide Library, 80% of whom have traditionally been regular personal callers. A new reliance upon a postal service will inevitably create problems for users, whether in terms of time taken to order or in reliability of delivery. The Association of Art Historians feels that the current proposal to close the National Art Slide Library will inevitably damage the quality of art and design history teaching, at a time when demand for this is growing—both in the further and continuing education fields and in schools because of the demands of the new National Curriculum. The Association is forced to the conclusion that this withdrawal of an important educational service, at a time when the Victoria & Albert Museum is advertising Karaoke booths and massage chairs for New Year revellers, must call into question the museum’s commitment to serious learning. The manner in which the decision to close the Slide Library has been taken by the V&A, the secrecy and total lack of consultation with users and with other interested parties, has led the Association of Art Historians to suspend its participation in the Liaison Group set up between itself and the Victoria & Albert Museum until the museum indicates that it takes the concerns about its plans seriously. The Association hopes that a solution to the problems caused by the projected closure of the National Art Slide Library can be solved satisfactorily. We are requesting a meeting with the V&A to discuss as a matter of urgency a way of resolving the problems.

Professor Martin Kemp,

Chair of the Association of Art Historians