The new-look Ulster Museum is the 2010 winner of art's biggest award, the £100,000 Art Fund Prize.
Belfast’s 81-year-old-attraction re-launched last year following a £17.8 million facelift and beat off stiff competition from the three other short-listed institutions: The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; Blists Hill Victorian Town Shropshire; and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.
During its redevelopment, the museum was completely transformed and rejuvenated by National Museums Northern Ireland working with Haley Sharpe Design. Since its reopening, the museum has become Northern Ireland's biggest tourist attraction and has gone from strength to strength. It also scooped The Permanent Exhibition Award at this year’s prestigious Museums & Heritage Awards for Excellence.
For the first time ever, the Art Fund Prize competition involved an online public vote, as well as a rigorous judging process led by broadcaster Kirsty Young. It was a resounding success and the poll received an unprecedented 73,000 votes and over 40,000 comments.
Kirsty said she was “moved and invigorated” by her visit to the Ulster Museum, which has become “an emblem of the confidence and cultural rejuvenation of Northern Ireland”.
“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,” she said.
Tim Cooke, Director of National Museums Northern Ireland, said rejuvenating the Ulster Museum was a “deeply rewarding and purposeful experience” that coincided with a noteworthy period of change in the country’s history.
“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 said.
Mr Cooke is already devising plans on how to spend the £100,000 prize. The organisation is to create a special programme designed to extend knowledge of, and engagement with, the Ulster Museum collections across Art, History and Science entitled the Ulster Museum/Art Fund Prize Programme.
The 11 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)
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