The Art of the Deal: Tristram Hunt resigns

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(Original post at The Boar)

Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent, has resigned in order to become Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The former shadow education secretary was a surprise appointment, as Hunt has no experience running an organisation of such size, despite a strong background in patronage for the arts.

Alongside his position as an MP, Tristram Hunt is a writer, broadcaster, and lecturer of modern British history at Queen Mary University of London, specialising in Victorian urban history. Hunt will replace Martin Roth, who resigned in September following Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Roth was reportedly paid upwards of £145,000, as part of a package worth over £225,000, a sum that dwarfs Hunt’s salary as an MP of £74,962.

As Director of the V&A, Hunt will be expected to manage the expansion of the prestigious institution and its diverse collection of over 2.3 million objects. The V&A’s new extension is expected to open later this year, and there are plans in place to create new spaces in Dundee, China, and East London’s Olympic Park.

Though Hunt lacks experience managing an organisation of the V&A’s size, he has been prominently involved in arts movements both locally and nationally. Hunt is a founder of the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival and patron of the British Ceramics Biennial. In 2014, he campaigned with the Art Fund to preserve the Wedgwood ceramics collection, which was gifted to the V&A and is on long-term loan to the Wedgwood museum in Stoke-on-Trent.

In a press release, Chairman of the V&A Nicholas Coleridge praised Hunt’s appointment: “He has a highly compelling mixture of experience across public life, the arts, history, education and academia, and knows our collections well from his writing and broadcasting.” He added: “I greatly look forward to working with him at the V&A.”

Hunt’s selection has surprised many in the artistic community, who expected a more experienced figure to become director. Luke Syson, Tim Knox, and current Deputy Director of the V&A Tim Reeve were all rumoured to be in the running for the post.

In 2011, Hunt wrote an article for the Guardian in which he advocated for the reintroduction of entry fees to London’s museums, including the V&A. Citing the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent as an example, Hunt highlighted how local councils lack the budget to subsidise regional museums and galleries.

In the article, Hunt suggested a £5 entry fee for adults to the capital’s cultural highlights, whilst maintaining free entrance for schools and students. In the hours following the announcement, the V&A was forced to issue a statement confirming Hunt’s commitment to free entry.

Since 2015, Tristram Hunt has been critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. His resignation triggers a by-election in Stoke on Trent, a constituency set to disappear under new changes to boundaries that will reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

In the 2015 general election, Labour’s nearest rival in the area was UKIP, which lost out by just over 5,000 votes. Hunt’s announcement has triggered speculation as to whether UKIP’s new leader Paul Nuttall will stand in the area.

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