Shetland Museum and Archives. © Mark Sinclair, Phatsheep Photography
The Art Fund Prize shortlist will be announced any day now, but who do you think should win the coveted prize?
We're running our own poll - the 24 Hour Museum Art Fund Prize People's Vote. Read this story about Shetland Museum and Archives and then cast your vote, or find out more about the other museums and galleries on the longlist.
Officially opened in May 2007 by HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the £11.6m Shetland Museum and Archives has been warmly welcomed by both the local community and recognised further afield for its innovative development - a criterion high on the Art Fund Prize judges' checklist.
The Museum and Archives at Lerwick were three years in the making, with new waterfront buildings constructed for telling the story of the islands, adjoining reconditioned boat sheds in the 1830s Hay's Docks – an integral part of the new museum.
The modern structure features a striking three-storey sail-shaped boat hall, where visitors can see five historic boats from viewing platforms – giving prominence to one of the area's key industry's of the past and present.
The Shetland Museum and Archives Boat Sheds. © Shetland Amenity Trust
Meanwhile, history is coming alive in the boat sheds with vessels once key to the islands' fishing industry being rebuilt to original designs, like the sixareen, while the new museum with its enticing interactives and fresh layout has garnered a nomination for the Guardian Family Friendly Museum Award.
Some 3,000 artefacts are shown in the new galleries, including many examples of Norse and Pictish heritage, as well as a working lighthouse optic and famous Fair Isle-patterned knitting.
The St Ninian's Isle Treasure. © National Museums Scotland
"We’re already doing well – we’ve only been open since last May, and in that time we’ve had 77,000 visitors, which on an island of only 22,000 inhabitants is quite an achievement,” said Jimmy Moncrieff, General Manager of Shetland Amenity Trust, which runs the museum.
Other coups for the museum include successful negotiations with National Museums Scotland for the loan of a Pictish metalwork hoard – the St Ninian's Isle Treasure – and recent acquisitions including the lost bell from the Titanic's sister ship and an interesting collection of Home Guard identity cards.
The Muness Castle Panel, salvaged from Unst 300 years ago, is one of the unique local artefacts on display at the new venue. © National Museum of Scotland
The loan of the St Ninian's Isle Treasure and some 15 other items on permanent loan from the National Museums collection indicates the standard of Shetland's new cultural facility. Many of the items left Shetland over a century ago, before there was any museum there, so receiving them back has been a significant event.
The Museum and Archives has also embarked on a four-year partnership with National Museums Scotland that will include skill-sharing and the opportunity for more items from the national collections to go on show in Lerwick. In 2009, for example, Shetland Museum will borrow Gunnister Man – a peat-bog preserved body dating to the late 17th century accompanied by the earliest surviving example of knitted clothes from Shetland.
The star items now on show in Lerwick, plus the revival of old skills in the docks and new expertise flowing into the museum thanks to the partnership should ensure an auspicious future for the Museum and Archives, with plenty more visitors on the way.
At work on the sixareen. © Shetland Amenity Trust
“While we’re situated on the periphery of the mainland, at the same time we’re physically situated on a crossroads," said Mr Moncrieff. "In European terms we’re an entry point to Scandinavia, Norway and the north.”
“All the same, we’d like to encourage more people to visit Scotland. It’s beautiful here. We’ve got a wonderful environment, exceptional archaeology and the museum is part of a vibrant, living community.”
"To win the Prize would be wonderful – a great accolade for all the work we’ve done here," he continued. "It’s a tremendous prize – to get on the longlist was wonderful, but to win the award would be the icing on the cake."
The £11.6m project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Shetland Charitable Trust, Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Following the judges’ visits, four museums and galleries will soon be shortlisted. The winner of the Art Fund Prize will be then announced on Thursday May 22 at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London during Museum and Galleries Month 2008.
Before then we would like to know what you think. Do you think Shetland Museum and Archives should win the 2008 Art Fund Prize? Vote for Shetland or any other longlisted museums in our People's Vote