The search for the next Art Fund Museum of the Year has begun.
The winning museum of the UK’s largest art award will receive £100,000, while four finalists will be granted £10,000 each.
Applications opened last Thursday, and close on 13 February 2020. The shortlist of five finalists will be announced in late April.
Art Fund said the award “champions the work of all museums – shining the spotlight on the originality and creativity of all sizes from every part of the UK”.
Museums wishing to be considered must demonstrate that their work over the previous year has stood out in some way.
Art Fund outlined what these achievements might involve: “Innovative exhibitions and events, engagement programmes transforming lives in the local community, creative use of digital media and technology to connect with new audiences, a project that transforms the physical space of the museum, and leadership in areas of equality, diversity and inclusion.”
Last year’s winner, St Fagan’s Museum of National History, said that it was “delighted” to be recognised for its work supporting and expanding cultural participation and representation.
The museum, which said it has been working in partnership with over 120 public and third party sector organisations, plans to “invest the money back into the public programme at St Fagan’s”.
Steven Deuchar, who has chaired and selected the judging panel since he relaunched the prize in its current form in 2013, will step down next year.
Liz Forgan, who has been a trustee of Art Fund for six years, will take up the position of chair for 2020.
The Museum of the Year prize is open to all varieties of institution, from national museums to independent museums to historic properties and beyond.
So which institutions might be in the running for 2020? Below we outline recent notable innovations of just a few:
MK Gallery, Milton Keynes
After an 18-month redevelopment, the Milton Keynes gallery reopened in March. It now consists of five exhibition spaces, a learning and community studio and the Sky Room, an auditorium which seats 150. The auditorium is partnering with Curzon cinema to bring independent film to the town, and will also facilitate poetry and comedy nights, concerts and lectures. The gallery has a new entrance and gift shop, and a playground which doubles as a sculpture park.
National Maritime Museum, London
The National Maritime Museum celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landings with an exhibition that opened in July, telling the story of our relationship with the moon through artefacts, artworks and interactive exhibits. This was the first full year that the museum’s four new galleries were in use. The display in of one of the new spaces, Polar Worlds, encompasses the history of the Polar Regions with consideration of their cultural and environmental status today.
Gairloch Heritage Museum, Scottish Highlands
This community-led and independent museum of Gaelic culture recently relocated. Faced with funding cuts and a lease that terminated in 2018, the museum secured £1.2m to redevelop a derelict military bunker, creating education and exhibition spaces, a store and archive and a new library, gift shop and café.
In its first full year of opening, the museum has celebrated the design and culture of videogames and commissioned Glasgow based artist Ciara Phillips to create work inspired by unseen items in the V&A’s Scottish design collections. The museum has also run a programme of events, talks and learning workshops.
Aberdeen Art Gallery
In November Aberdeen’s visual art gallery reopened after nearly four years of redevelopments. A new floor has been added, expanding exhibition space, and the building has been made more accessible, with a lift to every floor and hearing loops at points throughout the building. Visitor facilities have been improved and the museum now boasts an enhanced public programme of events and activities.
Windemere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories, Lake District
This new museum, which is located on the shores of Lake Windemere, opened in the Lake District National Park this March after 12 years of redevelopment work. The museum currently runs a daily "conservation conversation", during which visitors can watch boat builders working inside the museum’s conservation workshop whilst listening to a free accompanying talk.
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Three new galleries opened at the museum in February, dedicated to Ancient Egypt, East Asia and ceramic art. The museum also extended the reach of the new galleries through a national programme, which is currently touring the Ancient Egyptian exhibition and developing new East Asia displays at partner museums in Scotland.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield
A new visitor centre, comprising a restaurant, gallery space, foyer and shop, opened at the open-air museum and gallery in March. The centre, named the Weston, was designed to become part of the landscape, rather than dominate it. The building has a wild flower roof and a pioneering low energy environmental control system, and will show a changing programme of temporary exhibitions. The institution has already scooped the prize once before, in 2014.