Regions will provide 2021 Museum of the Year

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For the first time no London institution features in the shortlist for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award, reflecting instead the resilience and innovation of regional museums and galleries during the year of the Covid pandemic.

The winner, to be announced in September, will receive the £100,000 prize the goes with the title, and each of the four runners up will get £15,000 in recognition of their achievements.

“It has been incredible to see what museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK have achieved, overcoming the challenges of the past year” said Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund and chair of the judges. “Their resilience is nothing short of heroic. Our five finalists are all deeply embedded in their communities and alive to the possibilities of reaching far beyond their locality digitally. They have each shown extraordinary innovation and resolve. I would encourage everyone to visit them if they possibly can – in person or online – or make a beeline to a museum close to you this summer.”

The short-listed five are:

Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry which has been exhibiting emerging artists from Northern Ireland alongside international peers since 1992. Today CCA creates opportunities for audiences to experience ambitious, experimental and engaging contemporary art and supports the development of artists through commissions, solo and group exhibitions, public programmes, artist residencies, alongside its own publishing programme. It has continued to engage with the community through lockdown by displaying artwork in its windows and presented the biennial exhibition URGENCIES 2021 in shop windows, theatres and a shopping centre across the city, delivering activity packs to hundreds of schoolchildren.

Experience Barnsley opened in 2013 with a collection that traces the history of the borough from pre-historic times. Set in the iconic town hall it is supported by thousands of local people who have shared their memories and objects, making up the displays in the Barnsley Story Gallery. There are spaces dedicated to temporary community created exhibitions. Experience Barnsley’s recent digital activities have inspired local audiences to write poems, and submit sketches demonstrating how culture can make a difference to the local community, with the digital reach going to 17 million and an engagement of 942,000 across social media. In addition, thousands of care packages were sent to schools, care homes and local families.  

Firstsite, Colchester’s public contemporary art gallery, celebrates the diverse and radical people of East Anglia through art to empower all communities to be creative together and lead healthier and happier lives. In 2021 Firstsite is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a year of celebration projects and commissions.  Throughout the pandemic free activities packs featuring over 50 artists were downloaded by 92,000 households and quickly mobilised support to distribute welfare packs to shielded communities.

Thackray Museum of Medicine is the UK’s leading independent medical museum located between Europe’s largest teaching hospital in Leeds and some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in West Yorkshire. It first opened in 1861 as the purpose-built Leeds Union Workhouse, became a museum in the 1990s and now has a reimagined immersive visitor experience with  eleven new galleries showing how people have triumphed over disease. It became the first museum in the pandemic to host a vaccination centre delivering 50,000 vaccines, and it became a locus for food distribution, converting an ambulance to carry out outreach projects around the city.

Timespan at Helmsdale in the Scottish Highlands is a local history museum with a contemporary art programme, geology and herb gardens, shop, bakery and café. It responds to urgent contemporary issues rooted in the local context of remote, rural Scotland, with a global and multi-disciplinary perspective to produce four projects a year, each aligned with broader social movements, alongside a programme of artist residencies. Timespan has operated as a social hub for the community during the pandemic and in the past year the exhibition Real Rights reframed local history with the intersection of climate change and colonialism, with activity packs tackling themes of social justice sent to local village children, and the online cooking show, Recipes for a Disaster proving popular with local producers.


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