Shortlist announced for the Art Fund Prize 2011

By Culture24 Staff | 20 May 2011
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A photo of ancient Roman baths
“A good museum is like a good book,” muses former children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen, bowing to the “thought and care” put into the new-look Roman Baths.

“It holds your attention and is a real pleasure to read. The Baths does just this. The development has made it more engaging and accessible for people of all ages.”

When the site was revamped at a cost of £5.5 million last September, planners wanted to “declutter” a long-established but slightly dusty attraction, adding plenty of interactive elements and technological wizardry.

Now their blueprint has been rewarded with a place on the shortlist for this year’s Art Fund Prize, the flagship award for museum and gallery projects with a £100,000 cheque for the winner.

“It’s really thrilling to progress,” says Stephen Clews, the Manager of the Baths.

“It gives great recognition to the work of the project team over the last five years and to the vision of the Council in deciding to back the project, but most of all it gives our visitors a chance to really let people know what they think of us.”

Announced on Radio 4’s Front Row and BBC Two’s The Culture Show, the prize assembles a curious disparity of venues for 2011.

The British Museum’s A History of the World deserves all the accolades for its vision and scope, but the gap between the London powerhouse and the Polar Museum – the country’s only collection devoted to the Polar regions, run by a staff of seven employees and 15 volunteers – is sure to provide a focus for commentators.

“Keep spreading the Polar Museum love,” reads its Twitter page, which has just passed 100 followers.

Heather Lane, the Keeper of Collections at the University of Cambridge site, says she was “particularly moved” by the “heartfelt” praise the public response to the longlist provoked.

“It is fantastic to know that we have made such an impact in the short time that the museum has been open,” she adds, having only unlocked the doors to a £1.75 million renovation last summer.

“This is a real tribute to the efforts of the very small team here, who have worked so hard to make the collections truly accessible. We hope that everyone will support us again in the next round of the public vote.”

A rather larger new heritage haven will probably have an entire country behind it. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is the sole Scottish entry on the list, opened in January on a 10-acre landscape taking in the cottage where the poet grew up.

Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar says it points to the “diverse and idiosyncratic” reach of the country’s best venues, but as usual the public will have a commanding say in things during the next fortnight or so, with a public vote beginning on the Prize website.

The shortlist for the Clore Award, an equally hotly-contested £10,000 award for educational endeavours by museums, has been revealed alongside the Prize nominees.

Potential winners include a programme based around two Yemeni Queens at Weston Park in Sheffield and a digital storytelling campaign run by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

Other projects at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, the South London Gallery and the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History are also in the running.

  • Visit the online vote to leave comments and vote on the Art Fund Prize shortlist. Poll closes at 5pm on June 7 2011.