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Dr Paul Thompson

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  • Paul Thompson is the Rector of the Royal College of Art, the world’s oldest art school in continuous operation, and the only art and design university in the UK operating exclusively at postgraduate level. Prior to 2009, Paul was Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York (from 2001–9), and Director of the Design Museum in London (from 1993–2001). He is a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and is on the Ashmolean Museum Board of Visitors. He is also a member of the Programme Advisory Committee of the Wellcome Collection, Wellcome Trust.

  • Biography

  • Having completed a PhD at the University of East Anglia in 1987, Paul Thompson worked as a researcher for the Design Council, then at the Design Museum, where he was Curator of Contemporary Design, then Chief Curator, before becoming the Museum's Director in 1992. During his tenure, such exhibitions as Charlotte Perriand: Modernist Pioneer and Modern Britain 1929–1939 boosted visitor numbers and won critical, scholarly acclaim.

    In 2001, Dr Thompson moved to become Director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. Here, his passion for education was manifest in the dramatic expansion of national education services offered by Cooper-Hewitt. Under his leadership, in-service teaching training and project-based programs were established in communities ranging from rural Texas and inner-city Philadelphia to post-Katrina New Orleans.

    In 2007, Paul Thompson initiated the 'Design for the Other 90%' programme at Cooper-Hewitt and appointed the world's first museum curator of socially responsible design, Cynthia Smith. ‘Design for the Other 90%’ researches design for the developing world and those communities which live on less than $1 a day (i.e. 90 per cent of the world's population). Design for need and sustainable design are two strong interests of Thompson’s.

    While Director of Cooper-Hewitt, Paul Thompson spearheaded a major effort to digitise the Museum’s collection of 250,000 objects, commencing with its American art holdings which include the world’s largest number of works by artist Frederic Church and several major oil paintings and drawings by Winslow Homer.

    Paul Thompson also led a $64 million revitalisation project with architect Richard Gluckman, aimed at doubling Cooper-Hewitt’s gallery space and dramatically improving visitor services, conservation and collection storage facilities. Entitled ‘Re:Design’, the campaign secured 85% of funding needs before he left to become Rector of the Royal College of Art in September 2009. At the Royal College of Art, Dr Thompson will direct Phases Two and Three of the Battersea campus development, dramatically increasing and improving facilities for the Schools of Fine and Applied Arts.

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  • Practice

      Selected work