Transformative Museums

The five finalists for the Museum of the Year 2017 have been announced by Art Fund. The world’s largest and most prestigious award for museums, the annual prize champions what museums do, encourages more people to visit and gets to the heart of what makes a truly outstanding museum. In competition for the £100,000 prize money are: The Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham; The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art, Newmarket; Sir John Soane’s Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; and The Hepworth Wakefield.

Supported by Art Fund since 2008, Museum of the Year recognises organisations that have undertaken projects that will provide a lasting legacy or have a transformative effect on the museum; brought its collections to life for audiences in exceptional ways; delivered an innovative programme of audience development, learning or outreach; and won the support and enthusiasm of its visitors and users. Previous winners over the last six years include the V&A (2016), The Whitworth (2015), Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2014), William Morris Gallery (2013), Royal Albert Memorial Museum (2012) and the British Museum (2011).

The 2017 shortlist:

The Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham, dates back to 1880 and is one of the leading geological museums in the UK, with the largest collection of its kind in the Midlands. The museum re-opened in June 2016 after a £2.7 million redevelopment and expansion which transformed an academic university museum into a major new public attraction for Birmingham and beyond. It has helped bring to life internationally-significant scientific collections of over 250,000 specimens, ranging from dinosaur skeletons to volcanic rocks.

The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art based in Newmarket combines three attractions in one: the National Horseracing Museum, the Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art, and a flagship yard for the Retraining of Racehorses charity. 2016 was an exceptional year for the Centre, seeing the completion and formal opening by their Patron, Her Majesty The Queen, in November. The project has created a cultural hub in the heart of Newmarket that combines the history, science, art and culture of horseracing.

Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln Inn Fields, London, was designed by the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) to house his outstanding collection of art and artefacts. Given to the nation upon his death and preserved in accordance with his wishes as an ‘academy of the arts’ for the inspiration and education of all, it has been welcoming visitors, for free, for over two centuries. 2016 saw the completion of a £7million restoration of ‘lost’ Soane interiors so that, for the first time in 160 years, the Museum looks as it did when Soane died.

Tate Modern, also in London, opened in 2000. Last year it launched the Switch House, a new 10-storey building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, which welcomed 143,000 visitors in the first three days and six million in total since then. Displays in the Switch House range from sculpture and installation to performance and collaborative work, reflecting the radical evolution of Tate’s collection. In the original Boiler House, completely new displays offer four different approaches to the last 100 years of art history, emphasising international perspectives and showcasing many more women artists.

The Hepworth Wakefield is set in a David Chipperfield designed building overlooking the River Calder. This art gallery, museum and creative space is as unique as the artist who inspired it – Barbara Hepworth (1903-75). 2016 saw an ambitious programme to celebrate the gallery’s fifth birthday. Visitors increased by 21% and 26,000 people took part in learning and outreach programmes. The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture was launched to ignite debate and engagement with contemporary sculpture and reaffirm Yorkshire’s position as the home of modern British sculpture, with Helen Marten winning the £30,000 prize.

This year’s jury, chaired by Dr Stephen Deuchar CBE, is made up of Professor Richard Deacon CBE; Dr Hartwig Fischer; Munira Mirza; and Jo Whiley. The winning museum will be announced at a ceremony at the British Museum on Wednesday 5 July. In addition, for the first time this year, the other shortlisted museums will receive £10,000 each in recognition of their achievements. This year Art Fund is asking visitors to the five finalists to share their best museum stories, reviews, photos, memories and moments using @artfund #museumoftheyear

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1. The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire.