Five museums split £200,000 Museum of the Year prize

Winners include Gairloch Museum and Towner Eastbourne
Art Fund Museum of the Year
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Gairloch Museum was recognised for its community impact
Gairloch Museum was recognised for its community impact

Gairloch Museum, a volunteer-run museum in north-west Scotland, is among the five institutions to have won a share of the Art Fund’s £200,000 Museum of the Year award, which was announced by Grayson Perry on the BBC’s One Show last night.

The other four winners are Aberdeen Art Gallery, the South London Gallery, Towner Eastbourne and London’s Science Museum. It’s the first time the award has been shared between five institutions in its history.

The prize money was doubled this year and will be split equally between the winners in response to the financial difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic.

Art Fund director Jenny Waldman said this year’s winners had been selected because of their “really transformational choices and impact”, as well as their creative use of digital technology and spaces.

This year’s judging panel was unable to visit longlisted institutions due to Covid restrictions; winners were instead chosen based on video material, applications and citations. “It was a very throrough process and we’re incredibly thrilled with our five winners,” said Waldman, speaking at a webinar with the award winners.

The winning museums were chosen for a variety of reasons. Gairloch Museum recently underwent a £2.4m lottery-funded redevelopment that saw it move to a former Cold War bunker. The museum was established by volunteers and was recognised for its important community role.

Curator Karen Buchanen said: "With the prize money, we will be able to invest in our planned outdoor museum space and procure expertise and equipment to redesign our events and outreach programme for a sustainable, digital future."

The judging panel praised the Science Museum’s “shift change” in both its spaces and its relationship with visitors and communities, commending the institution for “thinking big, thinking local, and thinking radically”. Last year the museum opened two new permanent galleries, Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries and Science City 1550-1800.

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The judges praised Aberdeen Art Gallery for the "scale and ambition" of its five-year, £34.6m redevelopment, which increased the number of works on show from 370 to 1080. They also commended the gallery's "commitment to involve the people of the city in the future of this rediscovered jewel on their doorstep".

In 2019, the South London Gallery, in Camberwell, London, expanded its exhibition spaces into the neighbouring Peckham Road Fire Station. The judges were impressed by the gallery’s “integrity, creativity and inspiring leadership”.

Towner Eastbourne in East Sussex was recognised for its “genuine commitment to promoting under-represented artists in its programme, and its newly cemented status as an invaluable asset to Eastbourne”. The judges admired how it had redefined its purpose as a “free and open community resource”. The gallery recently won praise for its lockdown initiative to send free art packs to disadvantaged families.  

The judging panel was chaired by Art Fund trustee Liz Forgan, who was joined by Waldman, Jago Cooper, head of the Americas at the British Museum, artist Ryan Gander, and Melanie Keen, director of the Wellcome Collection.

Read the Museums Journal review

Gairloch Museum

Aberdeen Art Gallery

Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Science Museum

South London Gallery 

Towner Eastbourne

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