Rawthmells displays and exhibitions

  • Alice Sewell

The coffeehouse atmosphere needed to reflect the mission for the space as a natural home for people interested in social change, a place to make connections, have interesting conversations and discover great new ideas. The surroundings therefore needed to be stimulating, thought provoking and to change, ensuring that a familiar audience (the Fellows of The RSA) would have new materials around them to inspire and provoke curiosity. The permanent pieces on the walls of the coffeehouse were there to tell a story, illuminating the long and rich history of the organisation and the social change heritage that stood behind this latest development. They were a shortcut for anyone new to The RSA to understanding a little about this complex institution and being inspired to find out more, or even to join as a Fellow. These permanent pieces included a Quentin Blake illustration made for the occasion of the coffeehouse opening, and reproductions of many varied pieces from the archives which I chose to represent the many different aspects of RSA’s history and put together in a salon hang. A system of changing displays was devised to allow various projects by Fellows, the RSA researchers and Royal Designers for Industry (RDIs) to be shared. This approach also enabled us to communicate frequently with Fellows and reach out to other audiences to invite them in, encouraging a larger footfall to the coffeehouse. Over the first year Rawthmells was open three different displays of work by RDIs were shown; graphic designer David Pearson and ceramicist Robin Levein, illustrator Margaret Deuchars and theatre designer Es Devlin. In addition, a virtual reality experience produced by Mark Major RDI studio Spiers and Major allowed visitors to explore the ‘Third Age of Light’.