‘Momentous’: Whitworth boss thanks all who made winning Museum of the Year possible

After undergoing the ‘largest transformation in its history’, the Whitworth Art Gallery’s £15million redevelopment project has paid off as it has won the biggest museum prize in Britain and earnt the prestigious title of ‘Museum of the Year’ 2015.

The 125-year-old gallery scooped the £100,000 prize at a special awards ceremony held at Tate Modern in London earlier this week. 

Director, Dr Maria Balshaw, accepted the award from writer and novelist, Ben Okri, after fending off competition from other world-class contenders on the short-list, including the Imperial War Museum in London, Dunham Massey, The Mac in Belfast and Oxford University Museum of National History and the HM Tower of London.

The award is an acknowledgement of a museum or gallery who has best demonstrated excellence, innovation and imagination.

INNOVATION & IMAGINATION: Still Life from the M + Sigg Collection at the galler (© Ai Weiei)

Dr Maria Balshaw said: “In the five months since our reopening, 200,000 people have enjoyed everything from Cornelia Parker’s collaboration with the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Konstantin Novoselov – alongside her monumental new commission ‘War Room’ – to hip hop in the Grand Hall, tai chi in the art garden and an exhibition curated by older men from a local care home.

“In between, we’ve hosted ten critically-acclaimed exhibitions and witnessed a ‘takeover’ of the gallery by young people.

“What we have done this year is the culmination of all that we achieved in 2014.

“It has been a momentous period for the gallery – and winning this award is a wonderful way to say thank you to all those who made it possible, and to those visitors, old and new, who joined us on our journey.”

Asked what the Whitworth would do with the money, she added: “The gallery is on the doorstep of some of the most economically challenged communities in Manchester.

“It’s not very fashionable to talk about class, but those who are at the bottom of the economic scale quite often get overlooked.

“So we’d spend the money on increasing the work we do to engage those communities, particularly those people who use the park but still don’t come into the gallery and who don’t – yet – see the Whitworth as ‘theirs’.”

This is yet another award to add to the growing list, as Dr Balshaw was also presented with  a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list recently, for her services to the arts.

SUN SHINES ON WHITWORTH: Director was awarded a CBE, visitor numbers are up and they’re Museum of the Year (© Jan Chlebik)

The Whitworth saw a huge increase in visitor figures upon their re-opening this year on Valentine’s Day, breaking their own record by an impressive 30,000 – taking it from to 180,000 before the renovation to 210,000 upon reopening.

Art Fund Director and chair of judges Stephen Deuchar said: “The transformation of the Whitworth – architecturally, curatorially, and as a destination – has been one of the great museum achievements of recent years.

“We were particularly taken with the relationship between the reconceived building and its surrounding park: museum, locality and community merge as if one.

“And in a wider sense the Whitworth has changed the landscape: it truly feels like a museum of the future.”

Main image courtesy of Jan Chlebik, with thanks.

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