Ulster Museum Wins £100,000 Art Fund Prize

The Ulster Museum, Belfast was tonight announced by judge Kirsty Young as the 2010 winner of the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries. Praised by the judges for its all-round excellence, the museum beat three other short-listed institutions, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, to win the Prize. The Ulster Museum was awarded the £100,000 Prize at a reception at RIBA in London, in recognition of Opening up the Ulster Museum, a three year, £17.8 million project.

Tim Cooke, Director of National Museums Northern Ireland, said, “We are delighted on Northern Ireland’s behalf. This is the first time in Northern Ireland’s history that a prestigious cultural prize of this nature has been awarded to an institution in the region. This prize will encourage us as we endeavour to play a meaningful role at the heart of our changing society.”

He went on to say: “Rejuvenating the Ulster Museum in Belfast has been a deeply rewarding and purposeful experience coinciding with a remarkable period of change in Northern Ireland’s history. The public appetite for the new space and for engagement with our collections has been huge – as evidenced by the record visitor numbers and the massive level of support for the public vote element of The Art Fund Prize. I am grateful to all our visitors and supporters for their vital interest, to our funders, including the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Heritage Lottery Fund, to all National Museums Northern Ireland staff involved in the project and to The Art Fund Prize judges for all their time, care and enthusiasm. It is particularly humbling for us to be selected for this prize against such high calibre competition. I congratulate the Ashmolean Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Town and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum for all their achievements. They are all outstanding projects in their own right.”

Kirsty Young, Chair of the Judges commented: “We were moved and invigorated by our visit to the Ulster Museum. Here is a museum that shows how much can be achieved, and one that is building a lasting legacy. We were impressed by the interactive learning spaces on each level that are filled with objects which visitors are encouraged to touch and explore, and by how the museum’s commitment to reaching all parts of its community is reflected in the number and diversity of its visitors. The transformed Ulster Museum is an emblem of the confidence and cultural rejuvenation of Northern Ireland.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, commented: “Ulster Museum is a brilliant example of a museum that is passionate about its public. The redevelopment is stunning, capturing its visitors’ minds and hearts with exceptional creative flair. But I must pay credit to all participants in the Prize; it’s been an extraordinarily strong year and a stirring reminder of the wealth of culture, history, beauty, life and science in museums across the UK. Everyone should get out there and visit as many as possible!”

For the first time, The Art Fund Prize website hosted a poll inviting the public to vote for their favourite nominated museum or gallery, and to post supporting comments telling the Judges why they should win. The poll received an unprecedented 73,000 votes and over 40,000 comments. The Judges’ visits to the short list, and consideration of the results of the online poll and public comments informed their decision.

The Ulster Museum’s major project Opening up the Ulster Museum represents the first substantial development of this national museum in almost 40 years and makes an important contribution to the cultural rejuvenation of Northern Ireland. The three year project, at a cost of £17.8 million, has radically reconfigured the Museum’s listed building, offering a series of new galleries including interactive Learning Zones, a stunning new Applied Art Gallery and state-of-the-art, 3 storey-high Window on Our World display. The Ulster Museum re-opened on 22 October 2009 with a landmark retrospective exhibition by world renowned abstract artist, Sean Scully. Since its redevelopment, the Ulster Museum has become Northern Ireland’s busiest visitor attraction.

The Ulster Museum was also awarded with the enamelled silver Art Fund Prize Bowl made by craftsman Vladimir Bohm, which they can display for the next year.

The 2010 judging panel comprises:

Kirsty Young (Chairman), broadcaster
Kathy Gee, museums and heritage adviser
Professor A C Grayling, Professor of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London
Professor J Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, University College London
Sally Osman, communications consultant and former Director of Communications, BBC
Lars Tharp, Director, The Foundling Museum and BBC Antiques Roadshow expert
Jonathan Yeo, artist
The £100,000 prize is annually awarded to the museum or gallery for a project completed in the last year, that the Judges deem demonstrates the most originality, imagination and excellence. The Prize, which has been sponsored by membership charity the Art Fund for three years, aims to increase public appreciation and enjoyment of the UK’s museums and galleries.

Sky Arts returned as the TV Media partner for this years’ Art Fund Prize. For more information go to: www.skyarts.co.uk/artfundprize

The eleven museums and galleries on the long list for The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries 2010 were:

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (short-listed)
Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (short-listed)
Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle
Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, for Henry VIII: heads and hearts
The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry (short-listed)
The Leach Pottery, St Ives
The National Army Museum, London, for Conflicts of Interest
The Natural History Museum, London, for the Darwin Centre
The Royal Institution of Great Britain, for Science in the Making
Towner, Eastbourne
The Ulster Museum, Belfast (short-listed)
The Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries is administered by the Museum Prize Trust, a charitable company created in 2002 by The Art Fund, the Campaign for Museums, the Museums Association and National Heritage. Its trustees are Penelope, Viscountess Cobham (Chairman), James Bishop (National Heritage), Ylva French, Mark Taylor (Museums Association), Sam Mullins and Sandy Nairne (representing The Art Fund).


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