Polar Museum nominated as Britain's best

Rob Hastings
Thursday 03 February 2011 01:00

A museum of polar exploration in Cambridge that until recently had no curator, no staff and no funding has been nominated as the best museum in the country.

The Polar Museum attracts around 15,000 visitors per year - a tiny fraction of the near eight million the British Museum and the V&A, two of the other nominees, attract between them.

It is one of several small attractions to have made it onto the longlist for the Art Fund Prize, which every year awards £100,000 to the most outstanding new project by a museum or gallery.

Also recognised is the Hertford Museum, which details the market town's local history in a rejuvenated 17th century town house, and the Mostyn art gallery in Llandudno, which has doubled its visitor numbers since an expansion last year. Two brand new museums have been nominated - the People's History Museum in Manchester and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayrshire - while the Yorkshire Museum in York, the Roman Baths Museum in Bath and the Leighton House Museum in West London complete the list.

The Polar Museum was founded in 1934 by Frank Debenham, one of the geologists on Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Items on display include sledges, clothing and food brought back by the surviving crew of Scott's supply ship, the Terra Nova, as well as photographs and relics from Ernest Shackleton's ventures.

Its previously long-neglected exhibition had barely been modernised since the 1970s. But with support of almost a million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it has now been renovated in advance of the centenary of Scott's death next year.

The revitalisation project was driven by the Scott Polar Research Institute's librarian, Heather Lane, who has become the museum's first dedicated curator. She told The Independent: "By 2005 there had been 30 years of very little change, no external support, and nobody with a primary responsibility for looking after the museum. It was looking very jaded, very tired.

"We have the largest polar archive in the world and the largest polar library in the world, and it's a very exciting collection of artefacts. We hope that a visit to the museum will allow people to come away with an excitement about the subject and a hunger for knowing more."

To vote for your favourite museum on the longlist, visit: www.artfundprize.org.uk/2011/vote/

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