What heritage means to me: Philip Long

Philip Long, the Director of V&A Dundee
Philip Long, the Director of V&A Dundee Robert Perry
Philip Long is the director at V&A Dundee. In celebration of its opening on 15 September, he tells us what heritage means to him.

How do you define heritage?

Heritage is extremely difficult to define, like art or science. It’s multi-faceted, multicultural and means different things to everyone. It can be physical things that humans have brought into being, or a natural creation or species, or a collective memory or a common culture. Heritage is so prevalent, it’s almost invisible.

What is happening at V&A Dundee?

We are very near to opening now which is a thrilling time in a project which has been many years in preparation. Finishing touches are being done to the design galleries and our opening exhibition - Ocean Liners: Speed and Style. When people come through the doors we want them to have the most fantastic experience they can have. V&A Dundee is going to be here forever, a permanent addition to the cultural landscape of Scotland and I am very excited about that.

[quote]"V&A Dundee is going to be here forever, a permanent addition to the cultural landscape of Scotland and I am very excited about that."[/quote]

What’s your role?

I see my role as helping people understand why design is important in our lives and always will be. I want others to be inspired by the remarkable stories, creativity, innovation, ingenuity and entrepreneurship in 500 years of Scottish design. As part of the development of the museum, and thanks to National Lottery funding, we have been taking this message across the country exploring local design heritage as a point of inspiration for new ideas and thinking.

What inspired you to take on the role?

[quote]"The idea of creating a new design institution while also contributing to the regeneration of Dundee was irresistible."[/quote]

The opportunity combined my belief that cultural organisations should play a fundamental role in people’s lives – to educate, provide fun and entertainment, and to inspire – with my specific interest in design. I spent many years at the National Galleries of Scotland producing exhibitions where visual art and design came together to showcase the creative talent in the country.

Why did the V&A choose Dundee?

I think that Dundee rather chose the V&A! In 2007, the University of Dundee had a conversation with the V&A suggesting they might like to be at the forefront of a remarkable transformation of the city. The V&A has a huge responsibility to care for our heritage and be an inspiration for future creativity. The idea of creating a new design institution while also contributing to the regeneration of Dundee was irresistible.

What’s your favourite aspect of the project?

 I’m most proud of the conservation and restoration of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room – an original interior from Mrs Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms which had been in storage for the past 50 years. It’s currently under wraps as the centrepiece of the Scottish Design Galleries but is really a remarkable and moving thing to see.

[quote]"This is an ambitious, amazing building designed by the world-famous Kengo Kuma."[/quote]

What are your biggest challenges?

This is an ambitious, amazing building designed by the world-famous Kengo Kuma. It’s the first V&A in the world outside London. It needed a completely new team in place. Great projects such as this inevitably have their challenges. The biggest challenge now is to turn this, overnight, from a museum in development to one with thousands of visitors streaming through its doors every day.

Is there a piece of Dundee heritage that particularly inspires or resonates with you?

The relationship the city has with its riverfront fascinates me. The river played such an important part in Dundee’s industrial past as a trading port supporting many thriving industries. That connection was lost in the 1960s when the docks were filled in to make way for the new road bridge. V&A Dundee, along with other new developments, is helping to re-establishing the riverfront.

What’s your favourite heritage within the UK?

The Pier Arts Centre in Orkney is a very special place. It has been very sensitively expanded to display the most wonderful collection of 20th-century art. It’s one of many special places to visit on Orkney.

What was the last heritage you visited?

The Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park is stunning and bound up in our country’s history and identity. I enjoyed walking and cycling with the family and just having time to think in such beautiful wide-open spaces.

[quote]"Heritage is a common inheritance belonging to us all."[/quote]

Why is heritage important?

Heritage is a common inheritance belonging to us all. It’s vital that we acknowledge and pay testament to it if we are to understand our place in the world and respect other people and communities.

Favourite historical figure:

Not necessarily my favourite but I am inspired to learn more about the civil engineer Thomas Telford whose designs revolutionised how the country works.

Favourite meal:

I love good food but fish and chips round the kitchen table with my family is my favourite.

Favourite film:

I recently enjoyed The Death of Stalin.

Where do you like to holiday?

Scotland or France.

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