Art Fund’s £100k museum surprises

A First World war cruiser, a Welsh open air museum, a Victorian natural history collection and a contemporary art gallery join the V&A’s new Scottish outstation to vie for this year’s £100,000 Art Fund Museum of the Year prize.

“Despite (or perhaps because of) the complex environment of our times, the UK’s museums continue to challenge and inspire” said the chair of judges, Stephen Deuchar.  “The five shortlisted museums have each offered outstanding and different approaches to the vital task of engaging with the widest public in new and adventurous ways.”

HMS Caroline, Belfast is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the only remaining British light cruiser from the Great War. It was on the way to the scrap yard in Belfast when it was rescued, and a £20m project to restore it was completed in 2018.

Nottingham Contemporary opened in 20009 and since then has welcomed two million visitors. Last year it had three critically acclaimed exhibitions highlighting the work of women artists, marginalised cultural practices and performance art. with virtual reality tours allowing art lovers to visit from all over the world.

Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, founded in 1884, has one of the most important collections of anthropology and archaeology, and is famous for its singular approach to the presentation of objects and its willingness to encourage new interpretations. In 2018 it embarked on a series of innovative programmes: “Hope” asked questions about the collection’s colonial past; “Making” looke3d at links between making objects and health; “No Boundaries” worked with refugees to reinterpret collections; and “No Binaries” celebrated diversity through the collections and challenged prejudices. Last year the museum has a record-breaking 502,000 visitors. 

St Fagans National Museum of History, near Cardiff (main image) explores the history and culture of Wales and last year the museum completed a £30 million redevelopment to become Wales’ National Museum of History, with new galleries and workshop spaces alongside recreated iron age houses, royal residences and a new craft centre. The museum stayed open during its transformation welcoming three million visitors.

V&A Dundee opened in September 2018 after 11 years of planning and construction, becoming the UK’s first design museum outside London. At the heart of Dundee’s waterfront, the building was designed by Kengo Kuma and showcases international design permanent Scottish Design Galleries and a programme of major exhibitions. It is a unique partnership between the V&A, local government, universities, enterprise and communities, and over 500,000 people visiting since it launched. 

The winner will be announced at the Science Museum in July, with the other four shortlisted museums will each receive £10,000. Winners over the past seven years were Tate St Ives (2018), The Hepworth Wakefield (2017), 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).

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