Thu 21 Jul 22
Essex alumnus Philip Long has received a honorary degree for his pioneering work as Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland and founding Director of the ground-breaking V&A Dundee.
Philip told graduates at his ceremony: “I came to Essex now more than thirty years ago, part of a small group welcomed on to the first year of the brand-new postgraduate degree in Museum and Galleries studies created by the University. At that time there was an exciting boom in new museum developments here following a world-wide one, with the opening of The Burrell in Glasgow and the Clore Gallery at the Tate in London, the planning of the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery and Tate Liverpool. Here at Essex Peter Vergo and colleagues recognised the importance of the museum profession and the vital role these institutions have in shaping our understanding of history and contemporary culture.
“So it was a wonderful opportunity to come here. I arrived with a degree in the visual arts which I had studied I think with a varying diligence. Essex then was a great chance to come back to university to get stuck into what had begun to seriously interest me, and especially to make friends with students from across the Art History department, from whom I learnt just as much, both in the seminar rooms and I have to say in the pubs of Wivenhoe.
“What did my time give me here? As well as my degree of course, I began to learn that hard work is good fun and rewarding, and that the expertise and experience I most respect is among those who will readily say there is still much they don’t know but they want to find out. Being at a place like Essex University is of course all about learning, and what I have also realised looking back on my experience here is that a thirst to find out, so important for all of life ahead, is instilled in places like this. I am very grateful to Essex University for that, and for all the opportunities I was given here that have helped me since.”
Orator Dr Michael Tymkiw said: “He has proudly supported and promoted museums, arts and culture across Scotland since graduating from Essex in 1989 with a Masters degree in Gallery Studies and we are enormously proud of everything he’s achieved.
“Throughout his career, Philip has held a strong belief that museums and galleries have a positive impact on people’s lives, and he believes passionately that creativity should play an important part in anyone’s life.
“His decision to head-up the project to build Dundee’s V&A was based partly on chance, but also partly on his belief that cultural organisations should play a fundamental role in people’s lives – to educate, provide fun and entertainment, and to inspire – especially through design.”
Philip urged those attending to support the arts in the coming year as they recover from the impact of the pandemic. He said: “All of our lives have of course been seriously affected by the pandemic, and for many the consequences have been very difficult indeed. The situation has been unprecedented, with all experiencing a loss of liberty that has been confusing and disorientating. For me, building and opening a new museum, V&A Dundee, was hard, but I had never anticipated the further unimaginable challenge caused by the pandemic of having to close its doors as one of my final tasks before moving on to the National Trust for Scotland. Throughout the country our museums, galleries, concert halls, historic sites, cinemas all closed, and with that our towns and cities felt bereft, one-dimensional. And with that, it was possible to see that what we had always taken for granted, these places where we meet, have fun, learn, be inspired must not be taken for granted, and need to be supported to take care of our cultural heritage so we can always learn from it.
"Thankfully these places are open again and doing wonderful things, but they have a long, hard road back to recovery. So if I can ask all of you to do one thing after this celebration then it would be to go back to one of our museums, galleries, concert halls, and historic places in the coming days and weeks, helping them with that recovery so their vital role can continue, helping us all to better understand and enjoy the world we live in.”