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In 1999, the Royal Academy of Arts became the first British gallery to open for 24 hours, sparking a lasting trend in London’s nightlife: the museum ‘late’. The V&A launched a Friday lates series three years later, with most major museums and galleries soon following suit. But after a decade of them, things got a bit samey. Most lates became little more than after-hours drinks where you’d get in trouble for taking your plastic cup of wine into the wrong gallery.
That all changed in 2016, when gal-dem, a new magazine by and for women of colour, took over the V&A to launch its first print issue, and broke the mould for what a late could really be. BBZ brought its club night into the Fashion Gallery, and the foyer became a heaving dancefloor as grime artist Melz killed it on stage. More than 4,000 people showed up, and every inch of the museum felt alive. It turned a traditional institution into a radical, political party space.
Since then, lates have got more ambitious in their reflection of what’s really happening in the city. Instead of hosting string quartets and cheese-and-wine nights, galleries are booking drag artists, political activists and people like Resis’Dance and Pxssy Palace. Lates really are better than ever. Now we just need the RA to bring back that 24-hour opening…
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