Four museums and galleries have beaten stiff opposition to remain in the running to win the UKs largest single arts prize. The short list incorporates a wide range of museums, from Britains oldest museum, to a National institution and two very different independent charitable trusts. All have seen major redevelopments in the past year which have transformed the visitor experience. The four short-listed museums and galleries are:
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust
The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry
The Ulster Museum, Belfast
The short list has been selected by a panel of Judges, chaired by Kirsty Young, following visits to each of the eleven museums and galleries who were long-listed in February.
Kirsty Young, Chair of the Judges comments: My fellow judges and I have found it a very challenging task to select only four to go forward to the short list. Our visits have been eyeopening and the exceptional quality of the long list has meant that weve been spoilt for choice. During our deliberations the Judges passion and enthusiasm for the museums and galleries was more than evident.
Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund
, comments: This years short list is exceptionally strong; it vividly demonstrates the range of ways in which museums are creatively using their collections to engage visitors.
The Ashmolean Museum is one of the great university museums of the world that extends and enhances public access to its remarkable collections of art and archaeology and is nominated for an ambitious redevelopment. The sensitively executed £61 million redevelopment, designed by award-winning Rick Mather Architects, has extended the Grade 1 listed building to provide 39 new galleries, complete with an innovative redisplay of the collections, an education centre, rooftop restaurant, conservation studios, study rooms and stores. The Ashmolean is Britains oldest museum. Blists Hill Victorian Town is the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trusts largest site totalling 54 acres, and presents life in a typical town of the East Shropshire Coalfield around 1900.
Blists Hill Victorian Town is brought to life through a unique mix of first and third person interpretation, combining the efforts of costumed museum staff, professional actors and volunteers. The £12 million development of Blists Hill has seen the creation of a landmark Visitor Centre and World Heritage Site exhibition, a new street of shops and trades, a clay-mining experience, a narrow gauge railway and an incline lift. Blists Hill Victorian Town is the most famous of the charitable trusts 10 museums, situated within the beautiful Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum re-launched in October 2008 following a £20 million redevelopment of the existing building. The new space incorporates an atrium, seven new permanent galleries, a History Centre, creative media studios, education spaces, temporary exhibition galleries, collections stores and other visitor facilities. The new Herberts building and displays have made it a focus for local pride in a city whose 20th century history has included wartime destruction, economic decline and demographic change. Visitor numbers have rocketed from on average 80,000 people per year to over 319,000 visitors in the last year. The Herbert has welcomed over 500,000 visitors in the last 18 months.
Ulster Museums major project Opening up the Ulster Museum represents the first substantial development of this national museum in almost 40 years and making an important contribution to the cultural rejuvenation of Northern Ireland. The three year project, at a cost of £17.8 million, has radically reconfigured the Museums listed building, offering a series of new galleries including interactive Learning Zones, a stunning new Applied Art Gallery and state-of-the- art, 3 storey-high Window on Our World display. The Ulster Museum re-opened on 22 October 2009 with a landmark retrospective exhibition by world renowned abstract artist, Sean Scully. Since its redevelopment, the Ulster Museum has become Northern Irelands busiest visitor attraction.
For the first time the Art Fund Prize website is hosting a public poll, with the option for voters to leave comments in support of their favourite museum or gallery. The long list poll closed on Friday 7 May, and the results along with the comments were passed to the Judges for consideration in making their decision. With over 40,000 votes, the poll has proved a great success and will re-open for the short list on Friday 14 May at 9am, before closing on Friday 18 June at 5pm. The poll results and online comments will again be given to the Judges for their consideration when selecting this years Winner. Visitors to the website can enter an exclusive competition to win a limited edition Jonathan Yeo print. To vote, comment, or for more information about the Prize go to: www.artfundprize.org.uk
The winner will be announced on Wednesday 30 June at the Royal Institution of British Architects in London.