V&A opens its archives for virtual Glastonbury celebration

In lieu of the festival’s 50th anniversary edition, the V&A is hosting a week-long exploration of Glastonbury’s visual and historical legacy

This week would have seen over 200,000 people descend on Worthy Farm in Somerset for the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury Festival. Since the physical event was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, various initiatives have been dedicated to toasting the occasion from lockdown, including a weekend of ‘coverage’ on the BBC.

Elsewhere, the V&A is taking the opportunity to delve into Glastonbury’s lengthy history, namely the rich visual heritage that has evolved since its launch half a century ago. To do so, the V&A is opening up its national Glastonbury Festival Archive, which the museum acquired in 2014.

Top: The crowd at the Jazz World Stage, 1990s © Ann Cook. Above: Jean and Michael Eavis cheer the Pyramid Stage, 1992 © Brian Walker

The collection features a wealth of design materials created for the festival over the years, including promotional posters, line-ups and ticket stubs, displayed alongside early photographs and detailed accounts of the festival’s trajectory.

There is also a section tracing the evolution of ‘festival fashion’ back to its beginnings at Glastonbury, which was first home to the now ubiquitous ‘flower child’ look in the 1970s.

Fashioning Glastonbury Festival examines the dress codes and statements that have emerged on the festival grounds since then, and how they have filtered into the world of fashion photography and beyond. Included are outfits sported by early punks and ravers through to the stab-proof vest designed by Banksy for Stormzy’s blistering set in 2019.

Poncho rain cape and carrying bag, PVC, designed by Mary Quant, 1980s
Stormzy on stage, 2019 © Jason Bryant

The final section explores Glastonbury’s iconic stage design, placing particular focus on the Pyramid Stage, first created in 1971, via architectural plans and descriptions of its evolution. It also looks at the Shangri-La area, known for its artistic and often political focus, and Arcadia, which until 2018 was centred around a monumental Spider construction.

As part of the celebration, the V&A has also commissioned a soundscape by award-winning sound designer Gareth Fry that aims to capture ‘a day in the life of Glastonbury’. The piece comprises snippets of conversation and field recordings around the stages, campsites and the wider festival grounds, which were gathered during the 2015 edition of the festival. There is also a playlist created by museum staff, which the public can contribute to with their favourite songs heard at the festival over the years.

Although it won’t come close to replicating the experience, the archive allows people to have a slice of the action in lieu of the physical festival while offering a rare and enticing look at Glastonbury’s all-important visual history.

The first Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival, 1971 © Brian Walker
Gas Tower, Shangri-La © Hannah Sherlock
Blue Man, 1990s © Ann Cook
Festival-goer stuck in the mud, 1990s © Ann Cook
Adele at the Pyramid Stage in 2016. Image: Iwona Pinkowicz

The Glastonbury Festival Archive can be viewed online here; vam.ac.uk