The real winners of the Art Fund Prize will be you and me – the visitors
Sunday 20 June 2010
Four museums and galleries are waiting to find out if they have scooped £100,000 and the UK's largest single arts award, the Art Fund Prize 2010.
On 30 June, the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Coventry's Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Blists Hill Victorian town in Shropshire, and the Ashmolean in Oxford will discover which has demonstrated "the most originality, imagination and excellence" in a recent project to win the cheque.
Very nice, too, but will it have any impact on visitors like you and me? Yes, says Ludo Keston, chief executive of the Herbert Museum and Gallery. "Competitions of this kind produce an extraordinary level of public interest and generate significant support."
Keston cites the example of the Herbert's relaunch last October after a £20m redevelopment, which included eight new permanent galleries, four temporary exhibition spaces, a history centre and archive. Subsequently, visitor numbers have soared from 80,000 to 320,000 a year. And if the museum wins the prize, it will develop its work reaching out to the diverse local community.
The Ulster Museum also reopened in October after a £17.8m transformation, becoming Northern Ireland's busiest visitor attraction. The museum is still considering what it woudl do with the prize money.
After a complex £12m development, visitors to Blists Hill can now enjoy an expanded recreated Victorian shopping street and a new narrow-gauge railway and mine experience. Any prize money would be invested in its next project – the Museum of Iron in Coalbrookdale, which will gain a fine-art gallery.
The Ashmolean's £61m redevelopment resulted in a new building, adding 39 new galleries, temporary exhibition spaces and modern visitor facilities. According to director Christopher Brown, winning would enhance "the work of our Families Officer to deliver free activities and events such as late-night openings".
"The prize," says judging panel member Lars Tharp, "benefits the whole museum sector, not just the winner." We can only gain from that.
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