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Science Museum named as a winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020

Today the Science Museum has been announced as a winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020, the most prestigious museum prize in the world. In a unique edition of the prize and in recognition of the unprecedented challenges that all museums face this year, five winning museums have been named. They will equally share the £200,000 award, a 40% rise over previous years.

Medicine and Bodies gallery
The Medicine and Bodies gallery in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries © Science Museum Group

The winning museums are: Aberdeen Art Gallery (Aberdeen, Scotland); Gairloch Museum (Gairloch, Scotland); Science Museum (London, England); South London Gallery (London, England); Towner Art Gallery (Eastbourne, England). They are awarded based on their achievements in 2019 – 20.

Today’s announcement kicks off a week-long celebration featuring live-streamed talks, events and digital activity, giving an inspiring opportunity for audiences to get involved with museums all over the country. 

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘The last decade has seen a radical transformation of the Science Museum, culminating in the opening of Science City 1550 – 1800: The Linbury Gallery and Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries to critical acclaim last year. So it means a great deal to have this achievement acknowledged by this magnificent prize. 

Our museums are at the heart of national cultural life and, particularly during this time of uncertainty, provide solace, inspiration and joy to so many. We’ll be using the prize money to support local school children from communities that aren’t able to currently visit the museum with special outreach sessions, so that we continue to inspire futures beyond our museum walls.’

Tim Peake's Soyuz capsule on display in the Exploring Space gallery
Tim Peake's Soyuz Spacecraft in the Exploring Space gallery © Science Museum Group

Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund, said: ‘Congratulations to the Science Museum. The five Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 winners are exceptional examples of museums offering inspiration, reflection and joy in the heart of communities. The UK’s museums - admired worldwide and vital locally - were thriving before Covid-19. Now they can help rebuild our communities and confidence as we emerge from the virus.’

The judges, Jago Cooper (Curator of the Americas, The British Museum), Dame Liz Forgan (Trustee, Art Fund), Ryan Gander (artist), Melanie Keen (Director, The Wellcome Collection) and Jenny Waldman (Director, Art Fund), reflected: 

‘The Science Museum has undergone a profound transformation over a decade of thinking big, thinking local, and thinking radically. 2019 was a landmark year which saw the museum inspire the next generation of scientists with the culmination of Tim Peake’s spacecraft nationwide tour, its biggest ever sleepover to mark the Apollo 11 anniversary, and the opening of two exceptional new permanent galleries – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries and Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery. The judges recognised the shift-change that had taken place in this well-known and much respected institution, not only in its spaces, but also in its relationship with its visitors and local communities. The museum has become the world's leading destination for people to be excited, inspired and delighted by science.’

Exploring Medicine gallery
The Exploring Medicine Gallery in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries © Science Museum Group

Sir Ian Blatchford will reflect on the museum’s achievements as part of a panel discussion at 11.00 on Tuesday 13 October, featuring all the winners of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 and Art Fund Director Jenny Waldman. Produced in association with The Art Newspaper and led by art critic and podcast host Ben Luke, with registration via https://art-fund.arttickets.org.uk/

As part of the week-long celebration, the Science Museum is also sharing new and engaging digital content across all their social media channels, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

You can get involved by checking out their channels: @sciencemusuem and @artfund, following #MuseumOfTheYear and visiting www.artfund.org/museum-of-the-year.

The Science Museum will release a series of ‘Secret Science Club’ films on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, in collaboration with influencer Anna B that will explore the amazing experiments you can see in the museum’s Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery. Other highlights of the week include Outlander star Sam Heughan reading a beloved folktale from the western Scottish Highlands, pertinent to Gairloch Museum’s collection and local histories. Aberdeen Art Gallery will unveil Spotify playlists reflecting the museum’s collection. Towner Art Gallery will hold a daily ‘digital mindfulness retreat’ tapping into the beauty of the museum’s location and collection. South London Gallery will reveal a new poem inspired by Walter Crane’s wooden panel at the Gallery stating, ‘The source of art is in the life of a people’. 

ENDS

MEDIA ENQUIRIES:

For further information or to arrange interviews contact Senior Press Officer, Freya Barry at freya.barry@sciencemuseum.ac.uk  or 020 7942 4327/07717348881.

Lucy Hawes, Art Fund, lhawes@artfund.org / 020 7225 4804

Download press images: https://bit.ly/2SKM2E7.

NOTES TO EDITORS

Liz Forgan, Chair of the judges, Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020, said: ‘My genius grandfather took me to museums before I could talk so they are among the joys of my life.  Art Fund Museum of the Year rewards people and institutions who have that same genius and who use it to make their collections exceptionally understandable and inspiring for their visitors.  They are to be found in every size and sort of museums and galleries and it is a delight to applaud them.’

Ryan Gander, artist, said: ‘For me a museum is a safe haven for discovery, distraction and focussed attention. When I find myself in a museum I am a different person, I leave behind the repetition of the day to day and become an explorer of a cognitive treasure trove. Knowing that museums are there even when we are not physically in them, and knowing that at the drop of a hat we can go to a place that will provoke our imaginations and inspire us to have new and unusual thoughts, is essential for our wellbeing... like a gym for the mind.’

About Art Fund Museum of the Year
Art Fund has supported Museum of the Year since 2008. Its forerunner was the Prize for Museums and Galleries, administered by the Museum Prize Trust and sponsored by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation from 2003-2007. The prize champions what museums do, encourages more people to visit and gets to the heart of what makes a truly outstanding museum. The judges present the prize to the museum or gallery that has shown how their achievements of the preceding year stand out, demonstrated what makes their work innovative, and the impact it has had on audiences. These achievements might include:

  • innovative exhibitions and events, or engagement programmes which transform the lives of people in communities  
  • creative use of digital media and technology helping new audiences to connect with museums, or projects to open up spaces for more people
  • leading the charge for equality, diversity and inclusion
  • doing things differently and making bold choices with activities to ensure audiences well served 

Winners 2008 - 2019:
2008 - The Lightbox, Woking
2009 - Wedgwood Museum, Stoke-on-Trent
2010 - Ulster Museum, Belfast
2011 - British Museum
2012 - Royal Albert Memorial Museum
2013 - William Morris Gallery, London
2014 - Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield
2015 - Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
2016 - Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London
2017 - The Hepworth, Wakefield
2018 - Tate St Ives
2019 - St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff

About Art Fund
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19 Art Fund has made £2 million in adapted funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 159,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. In a unique edition of the prize for 2020, Art Fund responded to the unprecedented challenges that all museums are facing by selecting five winners and increasing the prize money to £200,000. The winners are Aberdeen Art Gallery; Gairloch Museum; Science Museum; South London Gallery; and Towner Eastbourne; www.artfund.org

About the Science Museum Group
The Science Museum Group is the world’s leading alliance of science museums, welcoming over five million visitors each year to five sites: the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York; the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester; the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford; and Locomotion in Shildon. We share the stories of innovations and people that shaped our world and are transforming our futures, constantly reinterpreting our astonishingly diverse collection of 7.3 million items spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Standout objects include the record-breaking locomotive Flying Scotsman, Richard Arkwright’s textile machinery, Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer and the equipment used by John Logie Baird to transmit the first ever television pictures. Our mission is to inspire futures - igniting curiosity among people of all ages and backgrounds. Each year, our museums attract more than 600,000 visits by education groups, while our touring exhibition programme and websites bring our creativity and scholarship to audiences across the globe.    

About Discover South Kensington
Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. discoversouthken.com.        

About the temporary exhibition programme at the Science Museum:

Brass, Steel and Fire [opening 22 October 2020 –7 March 2021]
Celebrating the ingenuity of the 19th and early 20th century craftsmen, instrument makers and model engineers, Brass, Steel and Fire will open in London in October 2020 following a critically-acclaimed opening at the National Railway Museum. Further details to be announced. Brass, Steel and Fire is kindly supported by Hornbeam Park Developments and players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. More information at: https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/brass-steel-and-fire

Carbon capture exhibition [1 April 2021 – 4 September 2022]
The Science Museum will open a new free exhibition about carbon capture. The first significant UK exhibition to be presented on the subject of carbon capture and storage, it will explore the latest techniques being developed for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to mitigate climate change. The exhibition is kindly supported by the Huo Family Foundation as part of their commitment to invest in education. More information at: https://bit.ly/3kYnnIX

Driverless: Who is in control? [extended until 5 Jan 2021]
For decades, autonomous vehicles have been heralded as a new technology that could change the way we live our lives. From self-driving cars to autonomous flying drones and smart underwater vehicles like the Autosub Long Range fleet which includes ‘Boaty McBoatface’, Driverless: Who is in control? explores how close we are to living in a world driven by thinking machines. More information at: https://bit.ly/3kXAzhk Driverless is supported by MathWorks (Principle Sponsor) and Direct Line Group (Major Sponsor) and PwC (Major Sponsor) and Samsung Electronics UK (Technology Partner).

About the COVID-19 collecting project
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic our curators are actively – and with great sensitivity – researching stories and identifying objects to collect on the nation’s behalf. These items will join the Science Museum Group Collection, providing a permanent record for future generations of medical, scientific, industrial, cultural and personal responses to the outbreak and chronicling its impact on society.  More information at:  https://bit.ly/3hfQZ2g   
 
About the other winners of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020:

Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery is responsible for the extraordinary art and heritage collections held by Aberdeen City Council, one of the finest in the UK. The collection includes Scottish artists, designers and makers like Henry Raeburn and Joan Eardley and internationally acclaimed artists from Claude Monet to Barbara Hepworth and Tracey Emin. Founded in 1884 by visionary Aberdonians, in 2019 the Gallery re-opened to the public following the most ambitious redevelopment in its 135-year history. Increasing works on show from 370 to 1080 across 8 new gallery spaces, the project also delivered new education spaces, greatly improved visitor experience, revised back of house facilities, and enhanced the public programme for all ages. 100 days into re-opening the Gallery achieved the major milestone of 100,000 visits. www.aagm.co.uk

Gairloch Museum
Located in the spectacular and remote western Scottish Highlands, Gairloch Museum opened in 1977 in a converted farm steading. 2019 was a transformational year for the museum, as they changed their name, home, displays and model, including moving to a repurposed nuclear bunker. The innovative transformation of this building from village eyesore to 5* attraction and community hub was the culmination of an 8-year, £2.4 million redevelopment project powered by more than 120 volunteers from across the sparsely populated parish. Renowned primarily for its social history collection, the museum display also includes the first ancient carved Pictish stone found on the west coast mainland and the enormous Fresnel lens of Rubh Re lighthouse. www.gairlochmuseum.org

South London Gallery 
Founded more than 125 years ago to ‘bring art to the people of south London’, South London Gallery has been open to the public and free ever since, now welcoming more than 190,000 visitors a year. Situated between Peckham and Camberwell in a residential area with a culturally diverse population and high levels of social and economic exclusion, today the gallery comprises its original site and the Fire Station Art Block, spaces for local children and families, and two permanent gardens. 2019 was the gallery’s first year realising the transformative impact of its new Fire Station which doubled its size. It is recognised for its acclaimed contemporary art exhibitions, including in 2019 a solo show by Dahn Vo across the whole gallery, and its expanded offer for its local community – from open weekends, to local tours and creative workshops. Its highly regarded, free education programme includes a peer-led young people's forum; family workshops; artist-led projects and commissions on local housing estates; and a programme for looked after children. www.southlondongallery.org 

Towner Eastbourne 
Founded in 1923 to create ‘an art gallery for the people’, Towner Eastbourne's collection is best known for its modern British art, including the largest body of work by Eric Ravilious (1903–1942), and a growing collection of international contemporary art including works by John Akomfrah, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tacita Dean, Grayson Perry and Wolfgang Tillmans. Following a significant local authority grant reduction 2018, Towner redefined its purpose as a free and open community resource and launched a new vision to transform communities through art. 2019 saw the museum re-establish confidence in Towner as an invaluable asset to Eastbourne, welcome record audiences of 163,000 (up 19% on 2018), and introduce a commission by Lothar Götz wrapping the building in a brightly coloured mural. www.townereastbourne.org.uk
 

Part of the Science Museum Group