Dr. Paul Thompson

Vice-Chancellor, Royal College of Art

Dr. Paul Thompson is a leading authority on art and design having worked at the intersection of culture and education for three decades.

Throughout his leadership of three international institutions – the Royal College of Art, the National Design Museum in New York, and the UK’s Design Museum – he has championed the best of design and fostered a positive environment for artists and innovators to flourish.

Dr Thompson has been Vice-Chancellor of the Royal College of Art, the internationally renowned art and design postgraduate university, since 2009. He has instigated strategic shifts in the academic vision of the institution, most notably, introducing scientific members of faculty (in computer science, materials science, and robotics) alongside the ‘traditional’ craft-based practitioners in glass, ceramic, print and painting. New programmes in Environmental Architecture and City Design have led to a substantial expansion of the School of Architecture, while new partnerships with universities in Singapore, the US, Japan and China have ‘internationalised’ the School of Design. As well as a significant investment programme securing the RCA’s future academic vision, Dr Thompson has overseen the opening of a new state-of-the art building at Battersea, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, delivering new studios, workshops, research centres, and incubator units for business innovation.

Prior to the RCA, Dr Thompson was Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York (2001–9). Here, he expanded nationwide education services, instigated the 'Design for the Other 90%' research programme, and appointed the world’s first museum curator of socially responsible design.

As Director of the Design Museum in London (1993–2001), Dr Thompson was responsible for increasing the museum’s sustainability and popularity with audiences. Through exhibitions such as Charlotte Perriand: Modernist Pioneer and Modern Britain 1929–1939, the museum increased visitor numbers and won critical, scholarly acclaim. Prior to becoming Director, Dr Thompson was Curator of Contemporary Design and then Chief Curator.

Dr Thompson is the new Chair of the British Council; a role he takes up from January 2024. He is a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Board Member of Creative UK and Chair of the Creative UK Creative Education & Careers Working Group; Chair of Universities UK’s Specialist Institutions' Forum; Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London; Executive Committee Member of SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities & the Arts for People and the Economy); Chair of Trustees at the Chelsea Physic Garden; and served on the Ashmolean Museum’s governing body at the University of Oxford from 2012–18. He completed a PhD in Modern European Thought at the University of East Anglia in 1987.