The grant will support a five-year programme of activities that it says will take the museum’s thriving research culture into a new phase, making its collections and expertise more visible and connecting them more fully with both academic partners and practitioners of art and design.

Founded in 1852 V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design and houses a permanent collection of more than 4.5 million objects covering 5,000 years of human creativity.

The first phase of VARI, from 2016-2021, will focus on a series of projects that are designed to enhance access to key parts of the V&A’s collections, and to help it develop new approaches to storage, display and interpretation.

“The V&A was the first museum in the world to establish a dedicated department for research, more than thirty years ago,” said Martin Roth, Director of the V&A. “With the establishment of V&A East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and the development of new storage and study facilities being planned, this is an incredible opportunity to help reinvent the collections for the digital, democratic age. The new Research Institute will help the Museum to make the most of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Initial research projects will include the conservation and digital reproduction of the Leman Album, an 18th-century volume containing the earliest surviving set of European silk designs; a study of the 19th-century legacy of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ (encyclopaedic collections from Renaissance Europe), and its potential for 21st-century collecting and display; enabling ‘crowd-sourced transcriptions’ of some of the V&A’s unparalleled collection of manuscripts by Charles Dickens by making them available online with tools to transcribe the text; and ‘Encounters on the Shop Floor,’ a project which will bring together practitioners in the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences to explore making and embodied knowledge.

VARI will also support an augmented programme of residencies to build bridges between South Kensington, were it continues its FuturePlan to refresh and redesign its public spaces, and East London, where it is planning to build V&A East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and new storage facilities.

Bill Sherman, Director of Research and Collections at the V&A said: “VARI will give new life to the Museum’s original mission of using exemplary collections to advance knowledge of the designed world. It will make the objects we house and the expertise we host more accessible to the broadest possible audience. We are grateful to the Andrew W Mellon Foundation for its extraordinary support and for prompting and shaping our approach.”

The project grows out of a year-long pilot project in 2014-15, supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, which used the V&A’s textile and fashion collections as a testing ground for museum-based, object-led research.

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The Leman Album, an 18th-century volume containing the earliest surviving set of European silk designs, will be part of V&A Research Institute’s initial research projects, which will be conserved and digitally reproduced