Art Fund announces five finalists for UK museum of the year

The London Postal Museum and Tate St Ives are among the five UK museums selected as finalists for the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018.

Art Fund awards the Museum of the Year prize annually to a museum that has shown exceptional imagination, innovation and achievement in the preceding year.

The winning museum will be announced at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London on Thursday 5 July and will receive £100,000 ($136,000). The other four shortlisted museums will receive £10,000 ($13,600) each.

The shortlisted museums are:

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge

Brooklands was the world’s first purpose-built motorsport racing circuit. The museum recently completed the most radical development of its historic site since opening 27 years ago.

It has transformed its Grade II-listed Bellman hangar and constructed a new Flight Shed and Aircraft Factory to tell the story of designing and building aeroplanes from the early pioneers to the supersonic Concorde.

The original buildings house an extensive collection of racing and classic cars, motorcycles, bicycles and other vehicles, but 2017 also saw the restoration of the racetrack’s Finishing Straight.

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge.

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull

The building and collection, founded by local industrialist TR Ferens in 1927, has recently undergone a £5.2m ($7m) refurbishment of the galleries and a complete rehang of the collection in time for its January 2017 reopening.

Major loans of works by artists from JMW Turner to Francis Bacon were displayed alongside new artist commissions and the gallery hosted the Turner Prize for the first time. As a result, last year the gallery more than trebled its visitor figures to welcome over 500,000 people from Hull and beyond.

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.

Glasgow Women’s Library

The UK’s only accredited museum dedicated to women’s history, Glasgow Women’s Library was established 26 years ago in a small shopfront with no funding. It has since grown into a multi-award-winning resource, recently completing a £1.4m ($1.9m) refurbishment of its Grade B listed building in the east end of the city.

Through the success of its 25th-anniversary programme visitor numbers doubled. All the objects in the collection, from suffragette memorabilia to knitting patterns, have been donated, and local women from diverse communities have helped create the permanent displays. They’ve also commissioned artists to develop new work responding to the collection.

Glasgow Women’s Library

Glasgow Women’s Library.

The Postal Museum, London

Telling the story of the mail, The Postal Museum has transformed from an archive with 3,000 visitors a year to a museum looking at the impact of post on society through a remarkable collection, innovative learning programmes and an impressive array of interactive galleries.

Since opening six months ago 75,000 visitors have poured through the doors to explore the two interactive exhibition galleries, dedicated learning and discovery centre and Mail Rail, a subterranean train ride, with vehicles created by engineering specialists Severn Lamb, that follows London’s 100 year-old underground postal delivery network.

The museum holds a number of collections, including the Royal Mail Archive, postal uniforms, pillar boxes and postal vehicles, and a huge collection of stamps, but ultimately it tells the story of the first social network.

The Postal Museum, London

The Postal Museum, London.

Tate St Ives

Celebrating the important contribution of 20th-century artists who lived and worked in Cornwall, Tate St Ives reopened in October last year following a £20m ($27.2m) refurbishment of its galleries and the addition of an elegant new extension.

An impressive 11,000 visitors attended the launch weekend. New spaces for display and learning have opened up the collection and the archives, allowing year-round access for the first time to works by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon.

Tate St Ives

Tate St Ives.

The Jury

This year’s jury is chaired by Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund. He is joined by Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group; Rebecca Jones, BBC arts correspondent; Melanie Manchot, artist and Monisha Shah, independent media consultant and Art Fund trustee.

Deuchar said: “Above all, Art Fund Museum of the Year is a prize for exceptional originality and innovation. Each of our five finalists has tapped into very current concerns: the progress of Glasgow Women’s Library exemplifies the quickening march towards equality; the Postal Museum addresses our first social network; Brooklands is inspiring the next generation of engineers; and the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and Tate St Ives are galvanising their communities around visual culture.

“Each one expands the very idea of what a museum can be. I would encourage everyone to see and experience them first-hand.”

Last years winner was The Hepworth in Wakefield. It was preceded by the V&A in 2016 and The Whitworth in Manchester in 2015. Yorkshire Sculpture Park was named Art Fund Museum of the Year in 2014.

Images: c. Marc Atkins.