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Professor Sandra Kemp

Director, The Ruskin – Museum and Research Centre, Professor

Sandra Kemp


Professor Sandra Kemp became Director of The Ruskin - Library, Museum and Research Centre in October 2017. She is an academic and curator who has worked at prestigious institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, including the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Kemp led the 
successful fund-raising campaign to secure The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection for Lancaster University, and in 2019 – the bicentenary year of John Ruskin’s birth – relaunched The Ruskin as an integrated university museum, archive and research centre. The ‘landmark acquisition’ (Art Fund) was the largest grant awarded in 2019 by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, leveraged on Kemp’s vision for The Ruskin as one of the world’s leading University Museums, that encourages us all to look closely, see clearly and imagine freely through Ruskin's works.

Her exhibition 
Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future explored Ruskin’s intense processes of visual observation through works rooted in the particularities of the natural world. Commissions by contemporary artists, testifying to the relevance of Ruskin’s ideas today, were interspersed amongst Ruskin’s paintings and drawings, diagrams and models, books, daguerreotypes and woodcuts, manuscripts and letters. The exhibition was profiled in the Daily Mail and the Financial Times podcast ‘John Ruskin's message for our times’. A short film of Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future is on YouTube.

In 2021, The Ruskin announced its forthcoming season, 
Tomorrow’s World Today: Ruskin, Art and Science. The programme launched with the Google Arts and Culture exhibition Painting with Sunlight: Ruskin and Science, co-curated by Kemp in partnership with the Royal Society, introduced in the blog post Cloud Perspectives.



Research Interests


The Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future

My aspiration is to continue to be a leading innovator in cross-disciplinary and public-facing research. It is my belief that as inherently dynamic institutions, constantly reinterpreting the past in light of the present, museums are important sites for the development and exchange of object-orientated interdisciplinary knowledge and expertise, re-imagining as well as re-interpreting our understanding of individual and collective identity, and of how we see the world.

My research focusses on questions arising from museum practice:

  • how we use collections to facilitate news ways of doing research and new ways of connecting people with heritage;
  • the value of the past in the present and whether and how our understandings of the past may provide pathways to the future;
  • visual aptitude and draughtsmanship as powerful conceptual tools and the importance of education in observation in all disciplines;
  • how interdisciplinary and hybrid forms of knowledge are crucial in a world where the ways in which we make and communicate knowledge are rapidly changing.

The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection provides a unique perspective on the foundations of 20th and 21st century artistic, social and political developments and is of outstanding research interest on account of the range and importance of the materials it contains. As a future-orientated thinker who was deeply committed to social and cultural values, Ruskin’s writings on European visual arts, well-being, conservation, political economy and social welfare spoke powerfully to the 19th century, but were prescient for our own. The collection provides the ideal locus for collaborative cross campus and cross disciplinary research. This will be the focus of the new Lancaster University Ruskin Research Centre for Culture, Landscape and the Environment.

Career Details

As an academic and curator, I have worked at the Universities of Oxford, Southampton and Glasgow, the Royal College of Art, the V&A, the Science Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. My exhibition, Future Face: Image, Identity, Innovation, funded by the Wellcome Trust at the London Science Museum, explored the long intellectual union of the art, design, technology and science in the analysis of the face as a 3-D bar-code of identity, and explored what faces might be like in the future. At the V&A I co-ordinated V&A research in partnership with the Bard Graduate Center, New York, for an exhibition and related publications on John Lockwood Kipling and the international legacy of arts and craftsand led collaborative research on the historical role of museums in the imagination of the future, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

My background is in English Literature, with a D.Phil from Oxford University, with research specialisms in 19th century literature, including literary and feminist theory, and training as a curator. For the past fifteen years my work has been located within the disciplines of futures studies in relation to visual and material cultures, both the historical dynamics behind the development of futures knowledge and current methods of futures expertise. I have extensive publications, including Kipling’s Hidden Narratives (Blackwell), the OUP Reader in Feminisms with Judith Squires, the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction with Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter; Writings on Writing with Lisa Lewis(Cambridge University Press), Italian Feminist Thought with Paola Bono(Blackwell) and Future Face: Image, Identity and Innovation (Profile Books).

I am an experienced leader of academic, public and corporate programmes with a successful international track record of delivery of major collaborative research projects and exhibitions. I have initiated and led public engagement and visitor events at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and SciFest Africa; and have secured EPSRC and the Nuffield Foundation funding for major public engagement programmes, working in association with biomedical scientists, medical physicists, surgeons, sculptors, filmmakers, painters and photographers.

External Roles

My Visiting Professorship at Imperial College follows my four year Senior Research Investigator role in the ICL Department of Materials at Imperial College, and my work as Royal College of Art (RCA) Research Director from 2000-2008 when I initiated research staff and student collaborations across design, material science and computer science, in partnership with science-based industries, government agencies, and the creative and cultural industries.

I am a member of the international jury of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

  • Published

    A Space for Time

    Kemp, S., 10/02/2021, Futures. Kemp, S. & Andersson, J. (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, Vol. 1. p. 52-68 17 p. (Futures).

    Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

  • Published


    Andersson, J. & Kemp, S., 10/02/2021, Futures. Kemp, S. & Andersson, J. (eds.). 1 ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 1-16 16 p. (Futures).

    Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

  • Published

    Ruskin and 'the most marvellous invention of the century'

    Kemp, S., 29/03/2019, Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud. Fragence Cooper, S. & Johns, R. (eds.). London: Paul Holberton Publishing

    Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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