Paul is a leading authority on art and design having worked at the intersection of culture and education for three decades. Throughout his leadership of three international institutions – the Royal College of Art, the National Design Museum in New York, and the UK’s Design Museum – he has championed the best of design and fostered a positive environment for artists and innovators to flourish.
Dr Thompson has been Vice-Chancellor of the Royal College of Art, the internationally renowned art and design postgraduate university, since 2009. He has instigated strategic shifts in the academic vision of the institution, most notably, introducing scientific members of faculty (in computer science, materials science, and robotics) alongside the ‘traditional’ craft-based practitioners in glass, ceramic, print and painting. New programmes in Environmental Architecture and City Design have led to a substantial expansion of the School of Architecture, while new partnerships with universities in Singapore, the US, Japan and China have ‘internationalised’ the School of Design. A significant investment programme will secure the RCA’s future academic vision as well as a new state-of-the art building at Battersea, designed by Herzog de Meuron, which will deliver new studios, workshops, research centres, and incubator units for business innovation.
Prior to the RCA, Dr Thompson was Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York (2001–9). Here, he expanded nationwide education services, instigated the 'Design for the Other 90%' research programme, and appointed the world’s first museum curator of socially responsible design.
As Director of the Design Museum in London (1993–2001), Dr Thompson was responsible for increasing the museum’s sustainability and popularity with audiences. Through exhibitions such as ‘Charlotte Perriand: Modernist Pioneer’ and ‘Modern Britain 1929–1939’, the museum increased visitor numbers and won critical, scholarly acclaim. Prior to becoming Director, Dr Thompson was Curator of Contemporary Design and then Chief Curator.
Dr Thompson is a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London; and servedon the Ashmolean Museum’s governing body at the University of Oxford from 2012-2018. He completed a PhD in Modern European Thought at the University of East Anglia in 1987.