In the latest of our series of interviews with Design-Nation’s brand ambassadors, we catch up with Adam Thow. Adam is a longstanding friend and advocate of Design-Nation through his roles at Southbank Centre and the Barbican and now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Adam has generously given up his time on many occasions to be involved in our selection panel, support DN members at events and exhibitions and provide advice and guidance. Here we find out a little more about his role and his work with designer-makers.
D-N: Please tell us about you and what you do.
A.T: I’ve worked in the cultural sector for more than 15 years including buying roles at the Natural History Museum and senior commercial roles at Southbank Centre and the Barbican. I’ve always championed up-and-coming designers and over the years have worked with the British Council, Ideas Tap, Cockpit Arts and the Design Trust amongst others, advising and coaching makers and leading teams. I joined the Sir John Soane’s Museum in April 2017 as the Director of Commercial & Operations.
D-N: What are your ambitions and challenges in the next year or so?
A.T: At the Museum a big focus of mine is on expanding the brand Licensing programme and recruiting new Licensees. Despite being the smallest national Museum the Soane has a well-established and broad group of Licensees from fireplaces to silks, architraves to jewellery. It’s fascinating to see what parts of the Museum and collection inspire creatives. Also coming up this year we have a big Hogarth exhibition and in addition to working on timed ticketing and an increased commercial events offer I’ve also been working with fabulous designers to come up with wonderful ranges of products based on reinterpretations of the Rake’s Progress. One of them is the legendary Sue Timney and I’m pleased to say the other is a Design-Nation member Melody Rose.
D-N: How and why do you work with designers and makers?
A.T: I have always believed that to get the most out of a collection or institution it is most interesting to see how other people are inspired by it and what they take from it. Creatives tend to think of things in a different way and look at things in a fresh light, I think this makes for a far more diverse and interesting product range for shops. Although my roles are extremely varied I’m still working regularly with designers and artists to create events, products and licensed ranges and it’s still as stimulating as ever.
D-N: How and why did you get involved in Design-Nation?
A.T: Originally through the Southbank Centre where the shops were involved with showcasing a maker’s initiative which ended up becoming an annual joint venture showcased in the windows there. I also then became a regular on the selection panel and as I’ve moved to different places in my day to day career have continued in that and as an ambassador.
Design Nation struck me then, and remains so now, as a really vibrant, interesting and valuable portfolio.
D-N: What do you think are the main challenges for the design and craft sector?
A.T: People are buying less, there is less onus on possessions, it is much harder to make a living from design and art than ever before and it’s a crowded marketplace with everyone much savvier at presentation and selling than previously. The sector needs to make beautiful, useful, sustainable things and I think only the best in their fields will manage to do that profitably.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone exciting who would that be?
A.T: Paul Smith, a quintessentially British talent who could design a fabulous collection based on the Soane Museum. I’m really interested in getting more textile, fashion and jewellery makers to join the list of Licensees as I feel the collection is so rich in potential.
D-N: Do you have any advice for today’s emerging designer-makers?
A.T: Take every bit of free advice, mentoring and partnership opportunities that you are given. Be bold and ask buyers and other makers direct questions and for advice on how you can improve your work or its presentation. Show consistency across your channels- social media, online, print.
D-N: What are you looking forward to?
A.T: The London Design Festival- much as it’s an unmanageable beast it’s the most exciting nine days of the year that is just crammed with beauty and fun and design and parties.