Eyes on the Art Fund Prize

In the gloomy climate of funding cuts, the £100,000 Art Fund Prize is an attractive proposition for museums. Gareth Harris reports
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Gareth Harris
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As funding cuts continue to hit national and regional museums across the UK, institutions will no doubt take particular interest in the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year, the deadline for which is 10 February.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, says: “The prize focuses on specific museums and the remarkable things they have achieved in the past year. Last year’s winner, the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, is a model of curatorial excellence.”

Sector professionals say that throwing the spotlight on lesser-known institutions is particularly welcome.

“The Art Fund Prize is a great way of raising the profile of a huge range of museum projects, particularly as the associated publicity searchlight casts much-needed attention on the smaller short-listed projects,” according to museum consultant Len Pole.

The award shortlist will be revealed on 23 April, with the winner announced on 9 July at London’s National Gallery.

A Museums Summit featuring the judges, which will focus on the achievements of UK museums within an international context, is due to take place the same day.

Significantly, the £10,000 Clore Award for Museum Learning, which has been presented in tandem with the Art Fund Prize, will no longer be a separate award, as the three-year agreement with the Clore Duffield Foundation has now ended.

A spokeswoman for the Art Fund says: “Learning and outreach are now part of the prize criteria, and Sally Bacon, director of the Clore Duffield Foundation, is on the judging panel.”

Public opinion

In 2012, the Art Fund controversially dropped an online poll that allowed the public to back one of the longlisted museums. This year, the public will have a say in which museums should be in the running through various social media sites.
Winners have used the prize money for a diverse range of projects.

The British Museum, which won in 2011, used the money to fund a series of “spotlight tours” of individual objects to partnership museums across the UK.

Marilyn Scott, director of the Lightbox in Woking, which won in 2008, says: “We used the funding in part to pay for things that we had not been able to complete before opening, such as improved disabled facilities.”

She adds that the prize transformed the gallery’s profile: “It brings immediate national attention, which is vital for development.”

The financial reward is not the only benefit of winning the prize. Former judge and freelance museum adviser Tristram Besterman says: “The recipient may be spared cuts because it is seen as a success, and it would be embarrassing to subject a prize-winning enterprise to the threat of closure.”

An ex-judge’s tips

Read the criteria and follow the instructions to the letter. The applications are all that judges will see to draw up their shortlist for visits. Not supplying what is requested, in the correct format, reduces your chances.

Understand what the prize is for. It’s not an architecture prize, or a prize for professionalism. It is about the whole museum. Winners must be outstanding and help raise the sector’s profile.

Make it easy for the judges when they visit. Let them experience the museum in the same way the public would.


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