From Steamhammer to Stormzy, the V&A’s Glastonbury Archive is a social history of hedonism, festival going and an alternative social history of modern Britain
In 2014, the V&A became the home to the Glastonbury archive for the nation, documenting the cultural importance of the world’s leading performance festival.
The collection brings together a huge range of ephemera ranging from posters, stage designs, costumes, interviews, films and other memorabilia, with the aim, says the V&A, of “safeguarding the history and to enable the continuing documentation of the festival today.”
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This September, which saw the 50th anniversary of the festival pass with just some virtual coverage and re-runs courtesy of the BBC as the UK festival season was curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the V&A announced a new funded partnership with the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop and share the archive more widely.
The project will create an online database to provide unrivalled public access to the massive archive of everything Glasto-related.
The move comes on the back of a recent project, announced by the V&A in June 2020, to collect Glastonbury audience memories, and this will continue to form an important part of the archive as it grows in future years.
“It will allow us to increase public, digital access to the festival’s performance history,” says V&A senior curator Kate Bailey of the latest development, adding that the project will “create research opportunities which trace the extraordinary creativity and impact of the festival’s past, present and future.”
Looking at the brilliant, and quite often hilarious, then-and-now images of the festival in the archive, you get a pretty good shorthand view of how the Glastonbury phenomenon has grown from a small Somerset farm festival for bunch of sixties rock and blues fans, into a mutli-million pound worldwide brand that encompasses everything from the underground to mainstream pop acts.
Describing it as “a unique social history and an invaluable archive of modern music” Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the AHRC, says “the digital database has huge potential to engage new audiences with the festival’s fascinating development over fifty years”.
“It will also provide an exciting resource and model for other events and institutions as they look to archive for posterity their festival and performance events. This project is part of our wider commitment to working with museums, galleries, libraries and archives to find innovative new ways to bring the riches of the UK’s heritage to the world.”
The Glastonbury Archive sits within the V&A’s extensive Theatre and Performance collection, which documents current practice and the history of all areas of performing arts in the UK, including drama, dance, opera, circus, puppetry, comedy, musical theatre, costume, set design, pantomime, popular music and more.
The collection was founded in the 1920s when the private collector Gabrielle Enthoven donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow to include significant objects and works of art, books, manuscripts, audio-visual recordings and ephemera, as well as the archives of performing arts companies, performers, directors, stage designers and private collectors.
The aim is for the new, open source, fully searchable Glastonbury database to be available to researchers and the public in 2021, enabling users to navigate and trace the rich performance history of the festival across time, stages and performers.
Anyone with Glastonbury memories to share is asked to email email@example.com.
Victoria and Albert Museum
London, Greater London
As the world's leading museum of art and design, the V&A enriches people's lives by promoting the practice of design and increasing knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the designed world.