The £100,000 Art Fund Prize has gone to The Lightbox in Woking. © The Lightbox
Woking’s new museum and art gallery, The Lightbox, has been awarded the UK’s largest single arts prize, The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries.
The Surrey museum, which opened in September 2007, scooped the £100,000 award at a ceremony at London’s RIBA on May 22 2008 beating off competition from the £30m Wellcome Collection, the Empire and Commonwealth Museum’s Breaking the Chains exhibition and Shetland Museum and Archives.
The result differed from the 24 Hour Museum’s People’s Choice, voted for by readers of the 24 Hour Museum website, who overwhelmingly chose another museum on the Art Find Prize shortlist as their top museum: Shetland Museum and Archives .
49.3% of our readers voted the UK’s most northerly museum into the top slot, beating The Lightbox into second place with 25% of the votes. The other museum that proved popular with readers was one that didn’t make it onto the shortlist, London Transport Museum, which garnered 17% of the people’s vote.
However, it was the Lightbox’s winning combination of innovative design and community involvement that impressed the judging panel of the Art Fund Prize.
With its canalside setting, it's hard to ignore Woking's sometimes forgotten history. © 24 Hour Museum/Graham Spicer
“It was a difficult final choice for the judges, but in the end we went for something novel, brave and full of delights,” said Chair of Judges Sue MacGregor.
“Woking in Surrey may sound a slightly unlikely place for a brand new museum,” added Sue, “but we were instantly impressed by The Lightbox: by the fine design of the building itself, by its international and local collections, and by the general air of enthusiasm and professional attention to detail shown by the staff and its many volunteers. The combination in the end was truly irresistible.”
Designed by the architects behind the London Eye, Marks Barfield Architects, The Lightbox boasts two of the most exciting gallery spaces in the South East. They are used to host an ambitious monthly changing programme of exhibitions, which include contemporary art by local and nationally famous artists, and loans from major museums and galleries in the UK and overseas.
The Lightbox is also home to Woking's Story, a permanent display, which explores the town’s fascinating history from the 19th century to the present day.
The Lightbox already has an award winning education programme. © The Lightbox
The origins of this new community focussed museum go back to 1993, when a group of 70 determined locals campaigned to open a museum and gallery for their town.
Fifteen years and £7 million later, they realised their dream, creating a new public space that has been hailed as an ‘ingenious jewel’. Recent innovations have included the launch of a community oral history programme and the museum being used as classroom for A-Level art students.
David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, praised The Lightbox for the way it galvanised the local community. “The Lightbox’s success testifies to the enormous energy of the local people who were determined to create this spectacular new museum and gallery in Woking.”
Over 10,000 members of the public gave something to The Lightbox: their handprint for a public art project, treasured family possessions for the collection or a financial donation.
“Winning is beyond our wildest dreams - we are such a new gallery and museum,” added Marylin Scott, Director of The Lightbox. “But it is incredible how much of an impact The Lightbox has had on the local community and the wider south east in such a short time. We are so grateful to all our funders, supporters and volunteers for helping us win the prize and grateful to The Art Fund for all their fantastic support.”
A young visitor faces up to In Memorium II, a 1983 bronze by Elizabeth Frink. © The Lightbox
Among the options The Lightbox is considering for using its £100,000 prize are an art commission and a semi-permanent structure for their canal-side courtyard, extending their exhibition and event space and further developing the visitor accessibility of their venue.
The Art Fund Prize (formerly The Gulbenkian Prize) was open to all Registered museums and galleries in the UK. As well as celebrating excellence, it is also intended to increase public appreciation and enjoyment of all these museums and galleries have to offer.