Shortlist Announced For The Art Fund Museums And Galleries Prize

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 17 April 2008
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Photo of the interior of a museum with writing and pictures on a wall.

The Caribbean Gallery at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol. © British Empire and Commonwealth Museum

The shortlist of four museums who are to compete for the UK’s largest arts prize, the Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries 2008, has been announced.

The list includes the UK’s most northerly museum, a medical collection, a new museum in Woking and a museum exploring the impact of slavery.

The four museums will now compete for the £100,000 Prize, which is decided by a panel of experts and awarded for originality, imagination and excellence. The winner will be announced on May 28 at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

Spanning the length and breadth of the country, the shortlist is:

The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, for ‘Breaking the Chains’ a landmark exhibition exploring the 500-year history and legacy of slavery.

Launched to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1807 the exhibition looks at everything from the enslavement and resistance of African peoples in the Transatlantic trade to the 2004 tragedy of Morecambe Bay. Challenging and emotive displays in this exhibition also show why campaigns against slavery need to continue to this day.

a photograph of a square modern building at night

The Lightbox at night. © Peter Cook

The Lightbox gallery and museum, Woking, a contemporary arts centre that has become a beacon for the local community.

In 1993, a group of local people got together to create a museum and gallery for Woking’s town centre. Fifteen years on, their dream has been realised in a contemporary arts centre that presents a unique collaboration between local history, the visual arts and architecture. Housed in a striking new building, The Lightbox has been critically acclaimed as an ‘ingenious jewel’.

Shetland Museum and Archives, Lerwick, Shetland, a new museum and archive set within a restored 19th Century dock.

A vibrant new museum and archive providing a new ‘Heritage Hub for Shetland’, Shetland Museum and Archive tells the fascinating story of Britain’s most northerly group of islands - from its geological beginnings to the present day. The project has preserved the rich culture and heritage of these most northerly of British islands, encouraging visitors to discover more through a network of local heritage and cultural sites.

photo of a harbourside with a rhombus shaped building on the right and several other buildings along it

Shetland Museum and Archives. © Mark Sinclair, Phatsheep Photography

The Wellcome Collection, London, housing the vast medical and scientific collection of Sir Henry Wellcome.

American-born philanthropist and entrepreneur Sir Henry Wellcome dreamed of a ‘Museum of Man’ to house his collection of artefacts and objects; 70 years later, the Wellcome Collection opened its doors on London’s Euston Road. This hybrid space – which is somewhere between a gallery, museum and live venue – approaches science in a fresh and engaging way. Over 1,500 exhibits are used to explore the new connections between medicine, life and art.

“We've been greatly impressed by each of the museums we've looked at over the past few weeks, and I'm delighted that the short list of four continues our theme of diversity, distinctiveness and real excellence,” said Sue MacGregor, Chair of the Judges for the Art Fund Prize. “Any one of them could be a worthy winner, which makes our next task - finding that winner - very challenging indeed!”

Open to all accredited museums and galleries in the UK, the Prize celebrates excellence and is intended to increase public appreciation and enjoyment of all that museums and galleries have to offer.

A photo of pictures hanging in a gallery.

A vast wall shows an impressive collection of medical-related paintings at the Wellcome Collection. © Richard Moss / 24 Hour Museum

"These four astonishingly diverse projects not only span the country, but also a dizzying range of topics, from slavery and medical science to contemporary art and seafaring,” said David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund. “In their very different ways they prove just how exciting our museums and galleries can be. Now it's for the judges to pick the final winner - they'll have a hard job!"

Last year’s winner list of The Art Fund Prize (formerly The Gulbenkian Prize) was Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Previous winners include Brunel’s ss Great Britain in Bristol (2006), Big Pit: National Mining Museum of Wales, Blaenafon (2005), The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art for Landform - part sculpture, part garden, part land-art - by Charles Jencks (2004), and the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham (2003).

This year’s short was selected from a long list of ten UK museums and galleries. The other six in the running were: the British Library, London, for ‘Sacred – Discover what we share’; International Slavery Museum, Liverpool; London Transport Museum; National Army Museum, London, for ‘Helmand: The Soldiers’ Story’; The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney.

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