Art Fund Prize shortlist announced

Rebecca Atkinson, 14.05.2010
Shortlist to win £100,000 Art Fund Prize revealed

Britain’s oldest museum, the Ashmolean in Oxford, has been shortlisted for the £100,000 Art Fund Prize along with three other museums.

Blists Hill Victorian Town, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry and Belfast’s Ulster Museum join the Ashmolean (pictured) on the shortlist.

The four museums were selected by a panel of judges from a longlist of 11 – including the National History Museum and the National Army Museum.

The judges visited all the longlisted museums and art galleries, and were for the first time also able read visitor comments from a public poll, which attracted more than 40,000 votes.

Kirsty Young, the chairwoman of the judges, said the “exceptional quality” of the longlisted museums and art galleries made the process of picking just four a challenge.

The poll for the shortlist has now opened, and members of the public can vote for their favourite museum to win the prize until Friday 18 June.

Click here to see the Art Fund Prize poll

The winner will be announced on 30 June at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

Sally Osman, one of the judges and the former director of communications at the BBC, said: “It’s so encouraging to see the amazing innovation and energy going on in the museum sector. These four museums all have a powerful story to tell and are all doing amazing work in public engagement.”

Names in the frame

All four of the shortlisted museums have undergone major redevelopments in the past year.

The Ashmolean Museum, which first opened in the 17th century, was praised for its “sensitively executed” £61m redevelopment that has seen the Grade 1 listed building extended to provide 39 new galleries.

Blists Hill Victorian Town, which uses costumed staff and actors to bring the experience of an East Shropshire coalfield around 1900 to life, now includes a visitor centre as well as a clay-mining experience and narrow gauge railway following its £12m development.

Re-launched in October 2009 following a £20m redevelopment of the existing building, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum now boasts seven new permanent galleries as well as an atrium, a history centre and creative media studios.

Finally, the Ulster Museum, the only national museum to make it onto the shortlist, has been “radically reconfigured” following a three-year redevelopment costing £17.8m.

The museum, which is Northern Ireland’s busiest tourist attraction, this week beat both the Ashmolean and the National History Museum to pick up the best permanent exhibition award at the Museums and Heritage 2010 Awards.