£100,000 Museum Prize Shortlist Revealed - It's David V Goliath Again!

By David Prudames | 13 January 2005
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Shows a photograph of the Courtyard Development at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. A group of visitors are standing in an open area in front of a statue.

The £12 million Courtyard Development at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has transformed a previously unused space. Courtesy The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Just as last year’s £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year pitched museum heavyweights against tiny community projects, so too 2005’s award will be contested by both giant and tiny institutions.

Now in its third year, the largest single prize in the arts world is open to all UK museums and galleries and seeks to reward the best new development of the past year.

The shortlist for this year’s prize was announced at a launch event in London on January 12 and offers a fascinating trawl through expansions, restorations and local initiatives.

From the £64 million Compton Verney art venue and a restored mine in south Wales, to a local museum in Devon and a community project in the Hebrides, it pits big-budget against small scale, vast institution against tiny organisation.

However, as Michael Day, Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces and member of the 2005 judging panel put it at the launch: "This prize is no respecter of size and importance."

Shows a photo of the front of a diesel locomotive.

Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon opened in September on the very spot where rail travel was born. Photo: Jon Pratty. © 24 Hour Museum.

Before revealing the shortlist Michael explained that the prize pays a massive compliment to the high standards and innovative work that goes on in the UK’s museums and galleries.

"Up and down the country, museums large and small are doing great work right now," he said. "It’s a fantastic thing for the sector that we had 60 entries that demonstrate the range and quality of the work going on in museums and galleries today."

Those 60 entries have been whittled down by the panel of judges to a 10-institution shortlist that takes in the full range of the museum and gallery sector in this country.

Photo of Big Pit museum from the outside. A rust-red pit tower juts up against a clear sky. Further forward, a whitewashed building.

Big Pit, the National Mining Museum of Wales is one of only three preserved deep coal mines in Europe and reopened in 2004 after a £7.1 million redevelopment. © National Museums and Galleries of Wales.

As well as national museums such as the Big Pit in Wales and Locomotion in Co Durham, a local history project from the Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon is on there alongside the Carn Chearsabhagh community project on the Hebridean island of North Uist.

"I think it’s an amazing cross-section" prize judge and vice-chair of the British Association of Friends of Museums, Dr Elizabeth Mackenzie told the 24 Hour Museum.

"It’s a true Brit selection which recognises that the tiddlers have as much to contribute as the giants," she said, "It just shows you that you can be tiny and still put in for a £100,000 prize."

Alongside her fellow judges, led by Rector of Imperial College London Sir Richard Sykes, Dr Mackenzie will now begin the process of visiting the shortlisted institutions to work out who will make the cut for the final four – to be announced on March 18.

Shows a photograph of a young boy sitting on top of a hill above a museum building. He is sketching on a large white sheet of paper.

Developed by the North Uist Historical Society, Carn Chearsabhagh has seen islanders curate their own exhibition. Courtesy Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Gallery.

Asked what she'll be looking for in the candidates, Dr Mackenzie said: "Innovation. The large ones have lots of money, but they’ve got to think about what they’re up to. For small museums, they have to engage communities where they are closing post offices and primary schools and sometimes the local history society or museum is the one thing left."

Engaging and reflecting local communities features highly on this year’s shortlist with such institutions as Time and Tide, the Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, that tells the story of the seaside town.

Shows a photograph of two visitors looking at a display at Time and Tise, which features a model seagull and a mannequin seemingly pulling on a rope and pulley.

Time and Tide is the result of 10 years work and is built in a Victorian herring curing factory. Courtesy Time and Tide, Museum of Great Yarmouth Life.

So too, the £1.89 million restoration of the last surviving courtyard of 19th century Back to Back housing in Birmingham, which recreates life in the block as it has been through the ages.

"We are very proud that the Backs to Backs have been shortlisted for this prestigious national prize," said National Trust Director-General, Fiona Reynolds whose organisation, alongside Birmingham Conservation Trust, carried out the work.

"The courtyard of Back to Backs is a unique survival and its opening has enabled the people of Birmingham to experience a very powerful example of their diverse cultural and industrial heritage."

shows a photograph of the back courtyard of a back to back house. There is washing hung on a line and various implements such as a wash board and barrel, bike and other period household implements.

Back to Back housing was once the principle dwelling of working class Birmingham, but Court 15 is the only one left. © The National Trust.

Up against the Back to Backs is another project that reflects and records the surrounding community. The Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple: 150 Years project has seen school children, retired employees and current workers record the history of the north Devon town’s biggest employer.

Organised by staff at the tiny Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon and funded through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is aimed at exploring the history of the Arts and Crafts furniture making company.

It combines oral history, digitisation and design research and will culminate in an exhibition in May and June this year as well as a permanent digital archive.

Speaking to the 24 Hour Museum, Project Co-Ordinator Claire Gulliver explained how being included on this year’s Gulbenkian shortlist "is a resounding recognition of what is being achieved here with very limited resources."

Shows a photograph of a man and a woman looking at a book amongst museum artefacts and displays.

Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple: 150 Years looks back at the history and output of the Arts & Crafts furniture maker. Courtesy Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon.

"It’s fantastic," she exclaimed, "we are delighted that such a small museum has been shortlisted alongside such large scale projects, it’s wonderful to be put in the same category as them."

And should the Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon be named the winner in five months time the effect, said Claire, would be more or less overwhelming.

"It would make such an enormous difference," she said, "it’s hard to imagine. It would almost change the place over night; there’s so much talent and hard work and imagination in this very small organisation and to have a chunk of money like that would enable us to realise all our ideas. It would be amazing."

While the announcement of which institutions make it to the final four will be made on March 18, an overall winner will be declared during Museums and Galleries Month on May 26.

The shortlist in full:

  • Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon - for Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple: 150 Years
  • Big Pit, National Mining Museum of Wales, Blaenafon
  • National Trust West Midlands - Back to Backs, Birmingham
  • The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge - Courtyard Development
  • Compton Verney, Warwickshire
  • Coventry Transport Museum
  • Time and Tide, Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
  • Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Gallery, Lochmaddy, North Uist - Carn Chearsabhagh Project
  • The Foundling Museum, London
  • Locomotion: the National Railway Museum at Shildon, County Durham.
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