York Art Gallery completed an £8m refurbishment last August

Art Fund Prize reveals shortlist

Caroline Parry, Issue 116/06, p11, 01.06.2016
Five contenders for the Museum of the Year award have undergone transformations of either their sites or audiences over the past 12 months
The finalists for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2016 demonstrate “why and how” UK museums lead the global sector, according to Stephen Deuchar, the director of the national fundraising charity.

The five shortlisted museums are Bristol’s Arnolfini; Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in south London; Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh; London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A); and York Art Gallery.

“Each of these five museums is outstanding – not just for the collections they display, but for the people who work there, and the visitors whose lives they can change,” says Deuchar.

Transformation – through a major construction project or structural expansion, or via the scope of an audience, outreach or education programme – lies at the heart of each museum’s story.

York Art Gallery has perhaps undergone the most extensive change with its £8m refurbishment, completed in August 2015. The project created 60% more exhibition space, with three ground-floor galleries, a floor to house the new Centre of Ceramic Art, and an artists’ garden.

“We believe the new and improved spaces are a fitting home to our nationally important collections,” says Reyahn King, chief executive of York Museums Trust.

While construction work is continuing at the V&A, with the redevelopment of its entrance hall entering the final stage, the museum opened its Europe 1600-1815 galleries at the end of 2015. The five-year project has expanded space by a third, reinterpreting seven galleries.

Meanwhile, last year’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition attracted 493,043 visitors, making it the V&A’s best-selling exhibition.

Martin Roth, the director of the V&A, says: “The museum is continually broadening access to its unparalleled collections of  art and design, bringing in new national and international audiences.”

Jupiter Artland, a collection of contemporary sculpture shown across 100 acres of woodland and meadows near Edinburgh, increased its commitment to its education programme during 2015, and focused on developing innovative ways to reach new audiences.

Founders Robert and Nicky Wilson aim to not only inspire children, but also to support artists early on in their careers. In a joint statement, they said: “The next generation is at the heart of everything we do: our education programmes have grown significantly and focus on teaching children simultaneously about the arts, the landscape and nature helping us to achieve our ambitious goal to reach every child in Scotland.

“Our annual commissions and exhibitions nurture early-career artists, often giving them an entirely new platform for their work.”

The Arnolfini, on Bristol’s harbourside, has been recognised for its work to ensure its exhibitions chime with the city, and for inspiring future artists through its education programme.

“We have worked very hard to reinvent ourselves for the post-recessionary times we live in,” says Tim Bleszynski, the head of brand and development.

Last year, the Arnolfini hosted Richard Long: Time and Space, the land artist’s most significant show there for 25 years, as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. It formed an innovative partnership with the University of the West
of England that involves the two organisations sharing resources and facilities, and collaborating on programming, education and research.

Bethlem Museum of the Mind moved to a new home in 2015 in the grounds of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was founded in 1247 as the UK’s first hospital specialising in mental illness. It now has more space to run its well-respected learning programme.

The museum’s director, Victoria Northwood, says: “[Being on the shortlist] is
a tribute to the staff, because we delivered this project on top of our day jobs. Everyone ended up doing things that were nothing to do with their jobs. They all worked incredibly hard.”

The winner will be revealed at London’s Natural History Museum on 6 July.