I left Washington DC on the very last plane out of the US before lockdown confined us to our homes for months on end. I left my role as a Smithsonian Museum director to take up the role of inaugural director of V&A East in my hometown London. It would be at my kitchen table that I would first meet my team over Zoom, it would be via Teams that we would recruit new staff, build vision, plan and operationalise. But once lockdown ended – I began to renew my acquaintance with a city I had left years before and catch up with old friends – but also to see the subtle and profound impacts of the pandemic, of Brexit, of Black Lives Matter and #metoo on the London that I thought I knew. This change in ambient culture has changed the requirements of the museum sector, and with it the fundamental role of a director. How to respond? This is my story…
Context Statement V&A East
The new cultural landscape requires new kinds of institution: museums that can re-energise collections for new audiences and recalibrate themselves to the concerns, rhythms, and modes of production of our new age. The V&A have taken the conundrum of losing their old collections centre at Blythe House and have turned it into a proposition that will deliver in innovative ways to the needs and opportunities of our time. This is the story of how V&A East plans to recast its collection of 280,000 objects, 900 archives, 360 thousand books to do something completely new - to offer a universal, unprecedented, and free platform from which to tell new stories of theatre, performance, art and design, to draw both existing and new audiences to its new east London home.
Dr Casely-Hayford is the inaugural Director of V&A East, appointed in March 2020. He is a curator and cultural historian who writes, lectures and broadcasts widely on culture, having presented a number of series for Sky, BBC radio and television and other channels. Formerly Executive Director of Arts Strategy, Arts Council England, (Britain’s major Art’s funder) and Ex-Director of the Institute of International Contemporary Art, he has offered leadership to both large and medium scale organisations including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. He has served on the boards of many cultural institutions, including the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery. Gus has lectured widely on culture, including periods at Sotheby’s Institute, Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, City University, University of Westminster and SOAS. He has advised national and international bodies on heritage and culture including the United Nations and the Canadian, Dutch and Norwegian Arts Councils. In 2005 he deployed these leadership, curatorial, fundraising, communications skills to organise the biggest celebration of Africa Britain has ever hosted when more than 150 organisations put on over 1000 exhibitions and events.
Gus is a Cultural Fellow of King’s College London, a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, a Member of the Creative UK Council and a Trustee of the Karun Thakur Foundation. Gus is also a member of the Art Mills Museum Scientific Committee and the English Heritage Blue Plaques Committee. He received a fellowship for service to the arts and a SOAS Honorary Fellowship for service to Africa and was also awarded an OBE in 2018 for his services to Arts and Culture. In 2023 he received Honorary Doctorates from both the University of East Anglia and University of the Arts London.