Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016: A look at the five finalists

By Culture24 Reporter | 29 April 2016

The Museum of the Year 2016 finalists include a 100-acre garden and the world's oldest psychiatric hospital

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A photo of a woman standing in a bright space at the Victoria and Albert Museum, nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016
The Exhibition Road building project at the V&A© AL_A
More than 3.4 million people visited the V&A in 2015 – the most in its history. At the end of 2015, curators opened the Europe 1600-1815 galleries in the culmination of a five-year project which has expanded the original space by a third, reinterpreting and redisplaying seven galleries and conserving 1,100 objects. An Alexander McQueen retrospective reinforced the V&A’s reputation as the home of fashion history. The project to create a major new gallery and a new entrance on Exhibition Road is now in its final stage.

They say: “We created an immersive and theatrical visual experience to capture the spectacle of his radical catwalk shows. We even kept our doors open for 48 hours for the last two weekends, to accommodate all those that wanted to visit.” – Ken Draper, Volunteer, on the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition.


York Art Gallery

A photo of a man standing in the gallery at York Art Gallery, nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016
Curator Mark Hearld in the Lumber Room at York Art Gallery© Kippa Matthews
Home to one of the finest collections of ceramic art in the world, the gallery reopened in August following an £8 million project to create a spectacular new space, affording 60 percent more exhibition displays. A new mezzanine within the roof space, previously hidden for 50 years, opened to the public for the first time in 1,000 years, and a new balcony leads on to an artist garden.

“It’s already allowed us to be more creative and imaginative in the ways that we inspire visitors of all ages and backgrounds. It is now everything that a gallery should be: fun, friendly, visually stimulating, thought-provoking and relevant to the thousands of visitors who come each year.” – Mike Woodward, York Museums Trust.


Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston

A view of a barn space at Jupiter Artland, nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016
Andy Goldsworthy's Stone House at Jupiter Artland (2009)© Allan Pollok-Morris
A 100-acre sculpture garden between Glasgow and Edinburgh, this artland is home to a growing collection of more than 30 works. Artists stay on site in an area aiming to provide a magical and intimate environment for children and adults, and more than 10,000 people were engaged in a learning programme which wants to engage every child in Scotland. A virtual Minecraft tour and a platform for emerging artists have been established.

“It’s a small place with a big heart and huge ambition. When we opened to the public eight years ago we never dreamed it would become what it is today.” – Nicky Wilson, Co-founder.


Arnolfini, Bristol

A photo of a sculpture of men at Arnolfini in Bristol, nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016
Daphne Wright, Kitchen Table (2014)© Courtesy Daphne Wright / Frith Street Gallery
Known for its free-thinking since launching in 1961, Arnolfini was one of the first galleries outside of London to embrace experimental art. It has helped regenerate the harbour area since moving there in 1975 and champions the independent spirit of the city to around 500,000 visitors each year. Richard Long’s Time and Space exhibition encouraged guests to reflect on their relationship with the land, and a city campus has been established on site with the University of the West of England.

“We see ourselves as space-makers for the unseen and unheard, bringing together artists and the public from all backgrounds. They can participate in a free environment and experience humanity through contemporary arts and culture.” – Kate Brindley, CEO.


Bethlem Museum of the Mind, London

A photo of a sculpture of men at Bethlem Museum of the Mind, nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016
Bethlem Gallery and Museum's statues, Raving and Melancholy Madness, by Caius Gabriel Cibber (circa 1676)© Michael Barrett
Thought to be the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, the site still provides care as part of an NHS Trust. The archive and museum was established in 1970 and relaunched in February 2015, featuring statues from the hospital in the city of London – the only survivors of the building. Artefacts and around 1,000 artworks showcase the history of mental health, and a separate gallery, set up in 1997, supports current and former patients in the area. Both organisations moved to an impressive new building last year.

“We host a wide range of groups – our participants include secondary school and higher education students, lifelong learners and mental health professional trainees. We hope that our learning programme will help to address the stigma around mental illness.” – Caroline Smith, Head of Learning.


Who gets your vote? Leave a comment below.

More on the Museum of the Year prize

The Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year: Why The Whitworth is the best of 2015

Yorkshire Sculpture Park enjoys Museum of the Year accolades
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