Judges Reveal Gulbenkian Museum Prize Finalists

By David Prudames | 25 March 2004
Shows a photograph of Landform. It comprises a stepped, serpentine-shaped mound reflected in three crescent-shaped pools of water.

Photo: Landform by Charles Jencks. Courtesy of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

The four finalists that will battle it out to receive the UK's largest arts prize have been revealed.

Awarded annually to one UK museum or gallery, no matter how big or what size budget it has, the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year is worth £100,000.

The four finalists will be the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, the University of Newcastle’s Museum of Antiquities, Pembrokeshire Museums Service and Norton Priory Museum, Runcorn.

"The four finalists this year represent the creativity and innovation so prevalent in the museum world today," explained 24 Hour Museum Chairman and Chair of the Gulbenkian judges, Loyd Grossman.

"These four very diverse projects - a national gallery, a university museum, a local authority programme and a small independent museum - are great examples of how museums can combine excellence and accessibility to all."

Shows a photograph of Varda and some of the children who study at the Priory Learning Centre.

Photo: the Varda with children from the Priory Learning Centre who use it as an alternative classroom. Courtesy of Pembrokeshire Museum Service.

As reported on the 24 Hour Museum, a shortlist of contenders was drawn up in January and included such diverse projects as Titian at the National Gallery, the massive Sanctuary at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and Thinktank’s innovative Futures Gallery.

Since then a panel of judges that includes broadcaster Joan Bakewell, neurophysiologist Mark Lythgoe and former BBC journalist Rosie Millard, has been travelling around the country visiting each institution in an attempt to whittle 13 down to four.

They picked out Charles Jencks’ Landform, part sculpture, part garden and part land art, created to house the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s outdoor sculpture collection.

They also went for Pembrokeshire Museums Service’s Varda, a travelling exhibition of Romany history and culture. The project celebrates the county’s oldest and largest ethnic minority and has generated interest as far afield as Poland.

Joining them in the final is the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Newcastle for Reticulum, a partnership project with local schools helping children learn about the Roman history of the area.

Shows a photograph of a collage of a Roman soldier carrying a shield.

Photo: Roman soldier by children from Newsham First School, Blyth, Northumberland for Reticulum. Courtesy of Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle.

"We’re thrilled" enthused the university’s Melanie Reed. "We are particularly thrilled as a university museum, because it’s the first time a university museum has even been shortlisted."

Melanie added that the period since the shortlist was announced two months ago has been a fantastic time for Newcastle, with the Tyne and Wear Museums-run Segedunum joining the Museum of Antiquities in the initial 13.

"To have two in one city is absolutely great. We are sorry they haven’t joined us as finalists, but it has been great up until now."

And if they won? "It’s such a massive amount of money," said Melanie, "it would enable us to invest more in this kind of project." The £100,000 would go into more outreach and community work at the museum, "so children visiting could get more out of the time they spend there," she added.

Also among the finalists is Norton Priory Museum in Runcorn, whose director, Steve Miller put into words his pleasure at having made it to the final four.

Shows a photograph of two men raking in the wildflower glade, the one in the foreground wearing a blue jacket and the one in the background wearing a red and blue striped jacket.

Photo: Astmoor volunteers working in the wild flower glade. Courtesy of Norton Priory Museum.

"Norton Priory is thrilled to be in the final four of this prestigious and exciting award for our special relationship with Astmoor Day Services," he said.

"I hope that it sends out a message to other organisations that with a little ingenuity, enthusiasm and creativity, museums can be places where long-term community engagement can result in a stunning visitor attraction."

The four candidates now face a fresh round of presentations and interviews with the judges before the overall winner is announced during Museums and Galleries Month on May 11.

The finalists in full:

  • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh for the dramatic Landform by Charles Jencks - part sculpture, part garden, part land-art
  • Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne for Reticulum, an innovative partnership betwen local schools and museum staff
  • Pembrokeshire Museum Service, Wales for Varda, a travelling exhibition based in a Gypsy caravan that explores local Romany history and culture
  • Norton Priory Museum, Runcorn for Positive Partnerships, working with people with learning disabilities, as featured in BBC 2 Hidden Gardens Medieval Herb Garden project
  • You’ve heard which museums the judges think are the best, but at the 24 Hour Museum we want to know what you think. Over the last few weeks we’ve been asking our readers which of the shortlisted museums they think should take the prize.

    On Saturday morning we’ll be announcing the result of our Gulbenkian Prize Readers Poll, so don’t forget to visit the site to find out who you’ve chosen.

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