Six Museums Shortlisted For 2015 Museum of the Year Art Fund Prize

The nominees are: Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham, IWM London, The MAC, Belfast, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, HM Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)

The Museum of the Year annually surveys museums and galleries across the UK, awarding one outstanding winner a prize of £100,000. Previous winners have been diverse in scale – from the British Museum (2011) to Walthamstow’s William Morris Gallery (2013). Last year’s winner was the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an outdoor museum cited for its “perfect fusion of art and landscape” and its major projects with artists such as Yinka Shonibare MBE and Ai Weiwei.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said today: “This is by any measure an exciting and diverse shortlist, showing great heights of creativity and ambition.  Despite a difficult environment of funding cuts, UK museums continue to be inventive, surprising and exhilarating.”

The announcement of the 2015 winner will be made at an awards dinner at Tate Modern on Wednesday 1 July 2015.  The event will follow the Museum of the Year Debate, also taking place at Tate Modern.

The members of the Museum of the Year Prize 2015 Jury are: Stephen Deuchar (chair), director of the Art Fund, Michael Landy, artist, Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author , Fiammetta Rocco, books and arts editor of The Economist, Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In a new partnership with the BBC, the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015 will be celebrated on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3 and BBC News Online, in a series of broadcasts and online interactive presentations during the period leading up to the announcement of the winner, enabling a widespread national debate about the value of the UK’s museums.

Museum of the Year National Photography Competition

The renowned British documentary photographer and photo-journalist, Martin Parr, is the official photographer for the Prize, and has created a special collection of photographs inspired by each museum. He will also be a judge of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year National Photography Competition, inviting members of the public to make and submit their own photographs of the shortlisted museums. Entries should be submitted to the Art Fund website no later than Sunday 31 May 2015.

The Prize will continue to partner with VocalEyes, a charity that provides access to arts and heritage for blind and partially sighted people. As well as creating introductory audio descriptions, VocalEyes will offer visual awareness training opportunities for staff and volunteers at the shortlisted museums to ensure that they are equipped to greet and guide blind and partially sighted visitors – while also setting a model of good practice to the sector.

The Museum Prize Trust founded the Prize for Museums and Galleries in 2003. The Art Fund funded the Prize from 2008 and took over responsibility for organising it in 2011, reconceiving it as Museum of the Year.

Dunham Massey (National Trust), Altrincham

A Georgian country house in Cheshire, appointed with an extensive collection, Dunham Massey has been home to the Booth and Grey families for some 350 years.  In 2014 the National Trust venue put on an extraordinary exhibition “Sanctuary from the Trenches”, which faithfully recreated the Stamford Military Hospital as it had been in 1917-19, using artefacts and furniture from the House’s own archive.  The team placed much of the main collection from the principal rooms – over 5,000 items – into store, which freed up the same set of rooms and spaces which had been used during the First World War to set up and run a hospital for wounded troops.  Working alongside Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, professional actors were brought in to tell fully-researched, real stories through live interpretation.  Between 1 March and 11 November 2014, visitor numbers to the House more than trebled, with the exhibition attracting both national and international visitors.  The ground-breaking initiative enabled Dunham Massey to reach new audiences as well as create the means to embark on a much larger conservation programme for their collection. Due to the success of the exhibition it will continue to run until November 2015.

IWM London

2014 saw one of the largest national commemorations experienced in decades: the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.  The conflict is now out of living memory and we no longer have the ability to draw at first hand from those who experienced it. However, Imperial War Museums (IWM) holds in its vast collections the voices, letters and diaries of those men and women as well as thousands of objects and works of art that tell a myriad of stories.  2014 saw IWM bring these stories to life through new permanent First World War Galleries, broadcast and media partnerships that reached millions in their homes, the First World War Centenary Partnership’s events and activities across the world, and the launch of a new digital memorial, to crowd-source, save and remember the individual stories of 8 million men and women who served on the home and fighting fronts.  The iconic atrium at IWM London was also transformed in 2014 following a major redevelopment.  Designed by Foster + Partners, the space tells the story of conflict from the First World War to the present day. 

The MAC, Belfast

The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) is a cultural powerhouse in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. It is one of Europe’s most significant purpose-built multidisciplinary arts venues, offering an outstanding programme of events and exhibitions. 2014 was an exceptional year across the organisation:  the visual arts programme in particular attracted significant numbers of visitors and profile. Audiences enjoyed an eclectic offering, from the acclaimed exhibition by Kara Walker to the inaugural MAC International exhibition, which attracted over 1,000 artist entries worldwide. The exhibition offered a £20,000 prize to one outstanding artist and is the largest art prize in Ireland.   Through their activities in 2014 the MAC has firmly cemented its place as the leading visual arts venue in Northern Ireland, and is now a significant contributor to national and international discourse around contemporary visual arts practice.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History combines exceptional collections with innovative public engagement, set within a spectacular, and unique, neo-gothic building.  In 2014, Oxford University Museum of Natural History reopened its doors after 14 months of closure to restore its important, Pre-Raphaelite inspired, iron and glass roof.  The museum re-emerged into the light from the £4m project with a revitalised public space, a substantially expanded engagement programme, an enhanced commercial operation, and new LED lighting to enhance the visitor experience of the interior.  The collections also received close attention, with a major conservation project undertaken on the suspended whale skeletons.  Innovative displays, tailored to diverse audiences of all ages, explore the natural environment and the interface between art and science. 2014 set the museum on track to a dynamic, outward-looking and sustainable future.  The renovation work to the Museum brilliantly restored and re-presented an icon of Victorian design, complemented by new techniques in visitor interaction.

HM Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)

Historic Royal Palaces is the charity which looks after six royal palaces, including the iconic HM Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror, which has a thousand-year history as a palace, prison and fortress on the north bank of the Thames.  In 2014 Historic Royal Palaces commissioned for HM Tower of London a work of art that was to become the defining public commemoration of the First World War centenary: Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.  This evolving installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, which eventually filled the 16-acre moat, was viewed by over 5 million visitors. Each poppy represented a British or Colonial military life lost at the front in the First World War, creating a powerful visual metaphor, both epic and personal. This exceptional public art project helped to place HM Tower of London at the forefront of innovation in the museum sector.

The Whitworth, Manchester

During 2014 the Whitworth underwent the largest physical transformation in its 125-year history.  The £15m redevelopment project by McInnes Usher McKnight Architects doubled its size and created a myriad of new spaces.  During 2014 the Whitworth was a conspicuously open ‘closed’ gallery, with pop-up projects all over the city and beyond, maintaining established audiences and building new ones.  Through its dynamic, experimental and lively pre-opening programme the Gallery ensured that its collections worked as hard for its public as ever, whilst gearing up for its grand reopening in early 2015.   It has also created new opportunities for people of all ages, and all backgrounds, to engage with art of the highest quality.  The new building allows the Whitworth to undertake larger and more ambitious projects, presentations and exhibitions realising its full potential as a major UK cultural destination. 

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