Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017 Finalists Announced




The Art Fund has announced the five museums which have been selected as finalists for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017, the most prestigious prize for museums in the UK.  The list was unveiled by Stephen Deuchar the Art Fund’s Director, at an event at the British Museum. It was followed by a panel discussion about the role of museums with Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, member of the 2017 jury; Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016; and Sarah Munro, Director of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. 

‘Each of these museums has had a remarkable year, reaching – in a range of ways – new heights’

This year’s jury, chaired by Dr Stephen Deuchar CBE, comprises Professor Richard Deacon CBE; Dr Hartwig Fischer; Munira Mirza; and Jo Whiley. The winning museum, which will receive £100,000, will be announced at a ceremony at the British Museum on Wednesday 5 July 2017. In addition, for the first time this year, the other shortlisted museums will receive £10,000 each in recognition of their achievements.

Speaking on behalf of the jury, Stephen Deuchar said: ‘Each of these museums has had a remarkable year, reaching – in a range of ways – new heights in their efforts to serve and inspire their visitors. Whether unveiling new buildings, galleries, displays or public programmes, all the finalists have shown a real commitment to innovation and experimentation, offering fresh perspectives and news ways of seeing and understanding their collections’.

The Shortlisted Museums are:

The Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham 

Dating back to 1880, The Lapworth Museum of Geology is one of the leading geological museums in the UK, with the largest collection of its kind in the Midlands. The museum re-opened in June 2016 after a £2.7 million redevelopment and expansion which transformed an academic university museum into a major new public attraction for Birmingham and beyond. It has helped bring to life internationally-significant scientific collections of over 250,000 specimens, ranging from dinosaur skeletons to volcanic rocks. The Museum’s core is now restored to its original 1920s grandeur and three new galleries have been unveiled, while beautifully designed, interactive displays and new visitor facilities have been created, including a state-of-the-art education room. Since re-opening, the museum has expanded its volunteer programme, diversified its audiences and education offering, and doubled visitor numbers.

The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art, Newmarket 

This centre combines three attractions in one: the National Horseracing Museum, the Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art, and a flagship yard for the Retraining of Racehorses charity. 2016 was an exceptional year for the National Heritage Centre, seeing the completion and formal opening by their Patron, Her Majesty The Queen, in November. The project has created a cultural hub in the heart of Newmarket which combines the history, science, art and culture of horseracing with the finest examples of British sporting art, together with an opportunity for visitors to meet former racehorses in the restored stables and newly-built arena. The redevelopment project, which has brought the royal palace and stables originally built for Charles II back to life, also involved an imaginative public engagement programme which aimed to place the museum at the heart of the local community in the town and surrounding areas.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London 

This magical museum in Lincoln Inn Fields was designed by the great neo-classical architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) to house his outstanding collection of art and artefacts. Given to the nation upon his death and preserved in accordance with his wishes as an ‘academy of the arts’ for the inspiration and education of all, it has been welcoming visitors, for free, for over two centuries. 2016 saw the completion of a £7million restoration of ‘lost’ Soane interiors so that, for the first time in 160 years, the Museum looks as it did when Soane died. A third more space is open to the public, 10% of the art collection has been put back on display and the entirety of his collection of 40,000 items is now available online. For the first time, there is full step-free access to all public areas of the Museum, and the launch of Explore Soane has allowed people from around the world to visit from the comfort of their own homes thanks to the latest 3D scanning technology. Exhibitions last year included celebrations of the lives of Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte, an examination on the work of Robert Adam, and Sarah Lucas: Power in Woman saw Sarah Lucas exhibit work from her British Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale within the Museum’s Georgian interiors.

Tate Modern, London 

Opened in 2000, Tate Modern is the national gallery of modern and contemporary art. Last year the Switch House opened, a new ten-storey building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, which welcomed 143,000 visitors in the first three days and 6 million in total since then. . Displays in the Switch House range from sculpture and installation to performance and collaborative work, reflecting the radical evolution of Tate’s collection. In the original Boiler House, completely new displays offer four different approaches to the last 100 years of art history, emphasising international perspectives and showcasing many more women artists. In the past year a wide range of major exhibitions has included: Robert Rauschenberg, The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, Mona Hatoum, Bhupen Khakhar and Georgia O’Keeffe. 2016 also saw the launch of Tate Exchange on level 5 of the Switch House, providing a platform for other organisations from around the country to programme activities, and allowing visitors to participate in the creative process of the gallery and discuss art and its value to society.

The Hepworth Wakefield 

Set in a David Chipperfield-designed building overlooking the River Calder, The Hepworth Wakefield is an art gallery, museum and creative space as unique as the artist who inspired it – Barbara Hepworth (1903-75). 2016 saw an ambitious programme to celebrate their fifth birthday. Visitors increased by 21% and 26,000 people took part in learning and outreach programmes. The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture was launched to ignite debate and engagement with contemporary sculpture and reaffirm Yorkshire’s position as the home of modern British sculpture, with Helen Marten winning the £30,000 prize. An acclaimed programme of exhibitions included major retrospectives of both Martin Parr and Stanley Spencer, and an installation by contemporary artist Anthea Hamilton. In the last year, art collector Tim Sayer has gifted 50 works to the gallery and also bequeathed his entire collection and London townhouse. The Hepworth Wakefield also announced their plans to create an inspiring, free public garden designed by leading international designer, Tom Stuart-Smith.

Winners over the past six years were the V&A (2016), The Whitworth (2015), Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2014), William Morris Gallery (2013), Royal Albert Memorial Museum (2012) and the British Museum (2011).

Top Photo: Sir John Soane’s Museum Image P C Robinson © Artlyst 2017


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