From a medieval royal court to a cutting-edge architectural landmark, the five institutions on this year’s Museum of the Year shortlist demonstrate the diversity of the UK’s museum sector.
The prestigious award hasn’t gone to a museum outside England since 2010, but there’s a good chance that might change this year with all four UK nations represented on the shortlist.
The finalists include St Fagans National History Museum on the outskirts of Cardiff, which recently completed a significant redevelopment that put cultural participation and co-curation at its heart. The final phase of the project, which opened to the public last autumn, saw the addition of a reconstructed 13th-century royal residency, a blacksmith's workshop and three new galleries dedicated to Welsh history.
Kengo Kuma-designed V&A Dundee is another finalist. The museum, which celebrates Scottish art and design, welcomed its 500,000th visitor in March - six months ahead of schedule - and has already had a significant impact on the local economy.
Also on the shortlist is Belfast’s HMS Caroline, a restored world war one warship that is the last surviving Royal Navy vessel from the Battle of Jutland. Now an important addition to the city’s regenerated Titanic Quarter, the museum recently completed a £20m restoration and unveiled a new immersive exhibition in a restored Victorian pump house.
Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, whose collections span archaeology and anthropology, has been recognised for its innovative range of programming, which has included radical decolonisation projects and co-curation work with refugees and the LGBT+ community.
The final place on the shortlist has gone to Nottingham Contemporary, the contemporary art gallery that opened in the Midlands city a decade ago, which has won praise for its pioneering exhibitions and engagement activities. Recent shows have focused on women artists and overlooked or marginalised cultural practices, and the gallery has increased participation from some target groups by 25% with its innovative educational programmes.
Chaired by the Art Fund’s Stephen Deuchar, this year’s judging panel includes the artist David Batchelor, the journalist Brenda Emmanus, Glasgow Life’s chief executive, Bridget McConnell, and Bill Sherman, the director of the Warburg Institute.
Deuchar said: “Despite (or perhaps because of) the complex environment of our times, the UK’s museums continue to challenge and inspire. 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. We congratulate all those who are on the shortlist and encourage everyone to go and visit them.”
The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Science Museum in London on 3 July. Prize money of £100,000 goes to the winning institution, while the four runners up each receive £10,000.