This man could be the messiah to launch art from the East End to a rave new world

VandA©DA21gus: V&A East director Gus Casely-Hayford at VandA East PR event in Here East (ex Olympic 2012 media centre) in front of Kehinde Wiley's 2020 portrait of Melissa Thompso met in Ridley Rd Market, Dalston, 300621
Here East (ex Olympic 2012 media centre) in front of Kehimnde Wiley's 2020 portrait of Melissa Thompson met in Ridley Rd Market, Dalston, 300621
V and A East director Gus Casely-Hayford and, top, with Kehinde Wiley’s daring (the hints of kitsch!) portrait of Melissa Thompson, whom he met in Ridley Road Market

BEYONCÉ, PJ HARVEY, Ridley Road Market, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dalston and, above all, the East End — Gus Casely-Hayford dropped enough names and voiced enough buzzwords to quieten the most cynical reporter when he outlined his plans for the V&A Museum’s NE London outpost.

The recently appointed director was telling the media how the two V and A East premises in the Olympic Park at Stratford will be radically different from traditional collections. Young people can see their presentation as dull and rigid. 

In Here East, on the banks of the Lee Navigation canal, will be a huge store, said Casely-Hayford, “unlike any other, and accessible by all”, due to open in 2024; the other a striking five-floor museum opening in 2025. 

It will show a dress worn by Beyoncé last year 2020 that was designed in Dalston. And Polly Harvey has donated her first electric guitar.

The V and A (Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington) is moving thousands of objects from a West London storage centre to the Stratford storehouse. Among them are a pair of ancient Egyptian shoes, an office interior by US architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the archive of the Englishman who designed a mass-market camera and a black cab. Casely-Hayford said: “They total “250,000 objects telling 5,000 years of history.”

The V and A claims to have spoken to more than 20,000 people in NE London to ask what they want from the museum. The director even says he will cycle to 250 schools in the area to excite them about art and its importance in young lives. 

Whether he finds the time to ride to fulfil his promise to bike to “every single one of them” in the boroughs of Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham is doubtful. Less doubtful is that the V and A has hired fine talent for the immense task of creating two new exhibition centres and artistic stimulants by the River Lea. 

Casely-Hayford — “that’s Dr Casely-Hayford,” he tells me, proudly referencing his PhD from London University. He immersed himself in the arts from childhood, and comes from a high-achieving family in Fulham, West London that built strong links to the creative worlds. He was previously director of the National Museum of African Art in the US capital of Washington. 

“Picture a new East End,” he said. “We will celebrate East London.” To which we who live here should shout: “Huzzah!” 

David Altheer 010721

* Backstory: Long Olympics run for Stratford flat-buyers; Stratford’s arty tower 

If you’ve never been to Ridley Road Market this excerpt from an oil painting by Hilary Rosen captures its vivacity

* Pictures © DavidAltheer@gmail.com. All available for sale via that eddress. Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink.

* Links to articles in The Guardian do not imply any approval of the newspaper’s historic involvement with slavery.

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