Art Fund Prize - Lightbox Wins, Burnham Hails Cultural Renaissance

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 22 May 2008
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photo shows delighted people exclaiming to each other

Wow - we did it! Lightbox staff react as the decision is announced. © Jon Pratty/Culture24

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.

However, it was the Lightbox’s winning combination of innovative design and community involvement that impressed the judging panel of the Art Fund Prize.

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At the awards ceremony, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham spoke of a new closer relationship between museums and communities. © Jon Pratty/Culture24

At the award ceremony, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, speaking passionately and without notes, touched on what he thought was a new spirit of excellence and creativity reaching through the museum and gallery sector.

"There's a generation of new, young museum directors who are rethinking what a museum is - finding new ways to tell the stories of our cultures, past and present," he said.

"When I was special advisor to Chris Smith (New Labour's first Culture Secretary in the 1997 government) there were all sorts of stale debates about increasing access and whether that would inhibit excellence...It's clear now you can of course have access, excellence and social purpose in our museums and galleries."

"We're seeing a renaissance, a flourishing of brilliance; people believe in the power of culture to engage minds."

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Lighbox staff and trustees enjoy their moment on stage. © Jon Pratty / Culture24

“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.”

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Lightbox staff savour the moment after the announcement. © Jon Pratty/Culture24

“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.”

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Lady Cobham, Chair of the Prize Trustees, welcomed the way communities and museums are getting closer together. © Jon Pratty/Culture24

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.”

The Art Fund Prize is crucial to supporting the development of the cultural sector, as is The Art Fund itself, added David Barrie.

"The prize celebrates museums and galleries - and more than that, it's about building self-confidence in our sector. Beyond that - it's about making sure people understand what we do. Without The Art Fund, museums would have great difficulty in raising funds for aquisitions."

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David Verey, Chairman of The Art Fund, welcomes guests and sets the scene for the evening. © Jon Pratty/Culture24

David Verey, Chairman of the Art Fund amplified that point when he welcomed guests at the start of the evening, saying that over 600 museums around the country had been able to make aquisitions as a result of working with The Art Fund.

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.

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