Gypsy caravan heads for top museum prize

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The Independent Online

A horse-drawn gypsy caravan is taking on the might of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in pursuit of the UK art world's biggest prize.

A horse-drawn gypsy caravan is taking on the might of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in pursuit of the UK art world's biggest prize.

The caravan, which tours rural south Wales to keep the Romany community's traditions alive, is one of four institutions listed for the £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for museum of the year.

It is a David and Goliath contest. The Scottish gallery project cost 60 times more than the modest £6,700 spent on its roving competitor.

The two have already beaten heavyweight competition, such as the National Gallery in London, which was nominated for its blockbuster Titian exhibition, and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, to get to this stage.

The other two projects in the running for the Gulbenkian Prize, now in its second year, are a project in Newcastle allowing youngsters to handle Roman artefacts, and the reconstruction of a medieval herb garden in Runcorn.

The wooden gypsy wagon, known as a varda, is a treasure trove of traditional crafts, instruments, tools and day-to-day equipment used by the travelling community. It was rescued from a dilapidated state by the Pembrokeshire museums service and rebuilt on a tiny budget.

Liz McIvor, a museums officer, was the brainchild behind the project. Ms McIvor said the museum helped the gypsy community in the area stay in touch with its culture and inform the wider public about a vanishing lifestyle.

"The Romany community is the biggest ethnic minority in Pembrokeshire. There are several thousand, which may not sound many, but it is large for a very rural county which does not have a large population.

"We wanted to foster a sense of community between the settled community and the gypsy community. We know for a fact there's a lot of shared mistrust, and it will take a long time to break those prejudices down, but we hope by taking this out to people it will help them to understand. If people are afraid of something it's usually because they don't understand."

The caravan trundled the county last year for the first time, being sited at official travellers' sites and schools for a month at a time. It is displayed from spring until autumn and there has been interest from the Nottingham museums service to house it during the winter months.

The finalists were drawn up by a panel of judges that included Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Campaign for Museums, broadcaster Joan Bakewell and Mark Bolland, a former aide to the Prince of Wales.

The biggest project of the four finalists is Landform, a complete relandscaping of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's outdoor sculpture park, creating a "magical" backdrop to the artworks.

The winner will be named on 11 May at a ceremony in the Royal Academy of Arts in London.